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Title: Life of John Keats - His Life and Poetry, his Friends, Critics and After-fame
Author: Colvin, Sidney, 1845-1927
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's notes:

(1) Characters following a carat (^) were printed in superscript.

(2) Macrons and breves above letters and dots below letters were not
      inserted.

(3) The following typographical errors have been corrected:

    Page 39: "The shield and helmet of Diomed, with the accompanying
      simile, in the opening of the third book; and the prodigious
      description of Neptune's passage to the Achive ships, in the
      thirteenth book:" 'Achive' amended to 'Argive'.

    Page 146: "And his references to this passage are frequent in his
      letters.--But in those exquisite stanzas," 'references' amended from
      'reference'.

    Page 478: "Many of them, considered in any other character than
      that of authors, are, we have no doubt, entitled to be considered
      as very worthy people in their own way." 'considered' amended from
      'considerd'.

    Page 480: "... or no regard to truth. It is, in truth, at least is
      full of genius as of absurdity; and he who does not find a great
      deal in it to admire and to give delight ..." 'of' amended from
      'af'.

    Page 490: "... we are like a Quartett of fighting cocks this
      morning." 'Quartett' amended from 'Quratett'.



[Illustration: PL. I]


  JOHN KEATS

  HIS LIFE AND POETRY
  HIS FRIENDS CRITICS
    AND
  AFTER-FAME


  BY
  SIDNEY COLVIN



  MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
  ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
  1917


  COPYRIGHT

  GLASGOW: PRINTED AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
  BY ROBERT MACLEHOSE AND CO. LTD.


  S. C.
   TO
  F. C.



PREFACE


To the name and work of Keats our best critics and scholars have in
recent years paid ever closer attention and warmer homage. But their
studies have for the most part been specialized and scattered, and there
does not yet exist any one book giving a full and connected account of
his life and poetry together in the light of our present knowledge and
with help of all the available material. Ever since it was my part, some
thirty years ago, to contribute the volume on Keats to the series of
short studies edited by Lord Morley, (the _English Men of Letters_
series), I have hoped one day to return to the subject and do my best to
supply this want. Once released from official duties, I began to prepare
for the task, and through the last soul-shaking years, being over age
for any effectual war-service, have found solace and occupation in
carrying it through.

The following pages, timed to appear in the hundredth year after the
publication of Keats's first volume, are the result. I have sought in
them to combine two aims not always easy to be reconciled, those of
holding the interest of the general reader and at the same time of
satisfying, and perhaps on some points even informing, the special
student. I have tried to set forth consecutively and fully the history
of a life outwardly remarkable for nothing but its tragic brevity, but
inwardly as crowded with imaginative and emotional experience as any on
record, and moreover, owing to the open-heartedness of the man and to
the preservation and unreserved publication of his letters, lying bare
almost more than any other to our knowledge. Further, considering for
how much friendship counted in Keats's life, I have tried to call up the
group of his friends about him in their human lineaments and relations,
so far as these can be recovered, more fully than has been attempted
before. I believe also that I have been able to trace more closely than
has yet been done some of the chief sources, both in literature and in
works of art, of his inspiration. I have endeavoured at the same time to
make felt the critical and poetical atmosphere, with its various and
strongly conflicting currents, amid which he lived, and to show how his
genius, almost ignored in its own day beyond the circle of his private
friends, was a focus in which many vital streams of poetic tendency from
the past centred and from which many radiated into the future. To
illustrate this last point it has been necessary, by way of epilogue, to
sketch, however briefly, the story of his posthumous fame, his after
life in the minds and hearts of English writers and readers until
to-day. By English I mean all those whose mother language is English. To
follow the extension of Keats's fame to the Continent is outside my aim.
He has not yet, by means of translation and comment in foreign
languages, become in any full sense a world-poet. But during the last
thirty years the process has begun, and there would be a good deal to
say, did my scheme admit it, of work upon Keats done abroad, especially
in France, where our literature has during the last generation been
studied with such admirable intelligence and care.

In an attempt of this scope, I have necessarily had to repeat matters of
common knowledge and to say again things that others have said well and
sufficiently already. But working from materials hitherto in part
untouched, and taking notice of such new lights as have appeared while
my task was in progress, I have drawn from them some conclusions, both
biographical and critical, which I believe to be my own and which I hope
may stand. I have not shrunk from quoting in full poems and portions of
poems which everybody knows, in cases where I wanted the reader to have
their text not merely in memory but actually before him, for re-studying
with a fresh comment or in some new connexion. I have also quoted very
largely from the poet's letters, even now not nearly as much read as
things so full of genius should be, both in order that some of his story
may be told in his own words and for the sake of that part of his
mind--a great and most interesting part--which is expressed in them but
has not found its way into his poems. It must be added that when I found
things in my former small book which I did not see my way to better and
which seemed to fit into the expanded scale of this one, I have not
hesitated sometimes to incorporate them--to the amount perhaps of forty
or fifty pages in all.

I wish I could hope that my work will be found such as to justify the
amount and variety of friendly help I have had in its preparation.
Thanks for such help are due in more quarters than I can well call to
mind. First and foremost, to Lord Crewe for letting me have free and
constant access to his unrivalled collection of original documents
connected with the subject, both those inherited from his father
(referred to in the notes as 'Houghton MSS.') and those acquired in
recent years by himself (referred to as 'Crewe MSS.'). Speaking
generally, it may be assumed that new matter for which no authority is
quoted is taken from these sources. To Miss Henrietta Woodhouse of
Weston Lea, Albury, I am indebted for valuable documentary and other
information concerning her uncle Richard Woodhouse. Next in importance
among collections of Keats documents to that of Lord Crewe is that of Mr
J. P. Morgan in New York, the chief contents of which have by his leave
been transcribed for me with the kindliest diligence by his librarian
Miss Greene. For other illustrative documents existing in America, I
believe of value, I should like to be able to thank their owners, Mr Day
and Mr Louis Holman of Boston: but these gentlemen made a condition of
their help the issue of a limited edition _de luxe_ of the book
specially illustrated from their material, a condition the publishers
judged it impossible to carry out, at any rate in war-time.

Foremost among my scholarly helpers at home has been my friend Professor
W. P. Ker. For information and suggestions in answer to enquiries of one
kind or another I am indebted to Professor Israel Gollancz and Mr Henry
Bradley; to Professor Ernest Weekley, the best living authority on
surnames; to Mr A. H. Bullen; to Mr Falconer Madan and Mr J. W. Mackail;
to Mr Thomas J. Wise; to Mr H. C. Shelley; to Mr J. D. Milner, Director
of the National Portrait Gallery; and to my former colleague Mr A. H.
Smith, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. Mr
George Whale supplied me with full copies of and comments on the entries
concerning Keats in the books of Guy's Hospital. Dr Hambley Rowe of
Bradford put at my disposal the results, unfortunately not yet
conclusive, of the researches made by him as a zealous Cornishman on
Keats's possible Cornish descent. I must not omit thanks to Mr Emery
Walker for his skill and pains in preparing the illustrations for my
book. With reference to these, I may note that the head from the
portrait painted by Severn in 1859 and now in Lord Crewe's possession
was chosen for colour reproduction as frontispiece because it is the
fullest in colouring and, though done from memory so long after the
poet's death, to my mind the most satisfying and convincing in general
air of any of the extant portraits. Of the miniature done by Severn from
life in 1818, copied and recopied by himself, Charles Brown and others,
and made familiar by numberless reproductions in black and white, the
original, now deposited by the Dilke Trustees in the National Portrait
Gallery, has the character of a monochrome touched with sharp notes or
suggestions of colour in the hair, lips, hands, book, etc. I have
preferred not to repeat either this or the equally well known--nay,
hackneyed--and very distressing death-bed drawing made by Severn at
Rome. The profile from Haydon's life-mask of the poet is taken, not,
like most versions of the same mask, from the plaster, but from an
electrotype made many years ago when the cast was fresh and showing the
structure and modellings of the head more subtly, in my judgment, than
the original cast itself in its present state. Both cast and electrotype
are in the National Portrait Gallery. So is the oil-painting of Keats
seated reading, begun by Severn soon after the poet's death and finished
apparently two years later, which I have reproduced, well known though
it is, partly for its appositeness to a phrase in one of his letters to
his sister. Besides the portraits of Keats, I have added from
characteristic sources those of the two men who most influenced him at
the outset of his career, Leigh Hunt and Haydon. A new feature in my
book is provided by the reproductions of certain works of art, both
pictures and antiques, which can be proved or surmised to have struck
and stimulated his imagination. The reproductions of autographs, one of
his own and one of Haydon's, speak for themselves.



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER I                                                     PAGE
  1795-1815: BIRTH AND PARENTAGE: SCHOOLDAYS AND APPRENTICESHIP      1

    CHAPTER II
  OCTOBER 1815-MARCH 1817: HOSPITAL STUDIES: POETICAL AMBITIONS:
    LEIGH HUNT                                                      27

    CHAPTER III
  WINTER 1816-1817: HAYDON: OTHER NEW FRIENDSHIPS: THE DIE CAST
    FOR POETRY                                                      59

    CHAPTER IV
  THE 'POEMS' OF 1817                                               85

    CHAPTER V
  APRIL-DECEMBER 1817: WORK ON _ENDYMION_                          130

    CHAPTER VI
  _ENDYMION._--I. THE STORY: ITS SOURCES, PLAN, AND SYMBOLISM      164

    CHAPTER VII
  _ENDYMION._--II. THE POETRY: ITS QUALITIES AND AFFINITIES        206

    CHAPTER VIII
  DECEMBER 1817-JUNE 1818: HAMPSTEAD AND TEIGNMOUTH: EMIGRATION
    OF GEORGE KEATS                                                242

    CHAPTER IX
  JUNE-AUGUST 1818: THE SCOTTISH TOUR                              272

    CHAPTER X
  SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1818: BLACKWOOD AND THE QUARTERLY: DEATH OF
    TOM KEATS                                                      297

    CHAPTER XI
  DECEMBER 1818-JUNE 1819: KEATS AND BROWN HOUSE-MATES: FANNY
    BRAWNE: WORK AND IDLENESS                                      321

    CHAPTER XII
  JUNE 1819-JANUARY 1820: SHANKLIN, WINCHESTER, HAMPSTEAD: TROUBLE
    AND HEALTH FAILURE                                             358

    CHAPTER XIII
  WORK OF 1818, 1819.--I. THE ACHIEVEMENTS                         385

    CHAPTER XIV
  WORK OF 1818, 1819.--II. THE FRAGMENTS AND EXPERIMENTS           424

    CHAPTER XV
  FEBRUARY-AUGUST 1820: HAMPSTEAD AND KENTISH TOWN: PUBLICATION
    OF _LAMIA_ VOLUME                                              455

    CHAPTER XVI
  AUGUST 1820-FEBRUARY 1821: VOYAGE TO ITALY: LAST DAYS AND DEATH
    AT ROME                                                        485

    CHAPTER XVII
  EPILOGUE                                                         513

  APPENDIX                                                         551

  INDEX                                                            559



  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  PLATE                                                           PAGE

  I. HEAD OF KEATS                                      _Frontispiece_

    From a posthumous oil painting by Joseph Severn in the
    possession of the Marquis of Crewe, K.G.

  II. PORTRAIT OF JAMES HENRY LEIGH HUNT                            46

    From an engraving by Mayer after a drawing by J. Hayter.

  III. PORTRAIT OF BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON                           62

    From an engraving by Thomson after Haydon.

  IV. LIFE-MASK OF KEATS                                           144

    From an electrotype in the National Portrait Gallery.

  V. 'ONWARD THE TIGER AND THE LEOPARD PANTS, WITH ASIAN
    ELEPHANTS'                                                     230

    From an engraving after a sarcophagus relief at Woburn Abbey.

  VI. A SACRIFICE TO APOLLO                                        264

    From an engraving by Vivares and Woollett after Claude.

  VII. THE ENCHANTED CASTLE                                        266

    From an engraving by Vivares and Woollett after Claude.

  VIII. 'AND THERE I'D SIT AND READ ALL DAY LIKE A PICTURE OF
    SOMEBODY READING'                                              338

    From an oil painting by Joseph Severn in the National
    Portrait Gallery

  IX. 'FIGURES ON A GREEK VASE--A MAN AND TWO WOMEN'               342

    From an etching in Piranesi's _Vasi e Candelabri_.

  X. PAGE FROM _ISABELLA; OR, THE POT OF BASIL_                    394

    From an autograph by Keats in the British Museum.

  XI. THE SOSIBIOS VASE: PROFILE AND FRIEZE                        416

    From an engraving in the _Musée Napoléon_.

  XII. 'WHAT PIPES AND TIMBRELS? WHAT WILD ECSTASY?'               418

    Bacchanalian friezes, (A) from the Townley Vase in the British
    Museum, (B) from the Borghese Vase in the Louvre.

  XIII. PAGE FROM A LETTER OF HAYDON TO ELIZABETH BARRETT, 1834    532



CHAPTER I

1795-1815: BIRTH AND PARENTAGE: SCHOOLDAYS AND APPRENTICESHIP

  Obscure family history--The Finsbury livery stable--The surname
  Keats--Origin probably Cornish--Character of parents--Traits of
  childhood--The Enfield School--The Edmonton home--The Pymmes
  Brook--Testimonies of schoolmates--Edward Holmes--Charles Cowden
  Clarke--New passion for reading--Left an orphan--Apprenticed to a
  surgeon--Relations with his master--Readings in the poets--The _Faerie
  Queene_--The Spenser fever--Other poetic influences--Influences of
  nature--Early attempts in verse--Early sympathizers--George Felton
  Mathew--Move to London.


For all the study and research, that have lately been spent on the life
and work of Keats, there is one point as to which we remain as much in
the dark as ever, and that is his family history. He was born at an hour
when the gradually re-awakened genius of poetry in our race, I mean of
impassioned and imaginative poetry, was ready to offer new forms of
spiritual sustenance, and a range of emotions both widened and deepened,
to a generation as yet only half prepared to receive them. If we
consider the other chief poets who bore their part in that great
revival, we can commonly recognize either some strain of power in their
blood or some strong inspiring quality in the scenery and traditions of
their home, or both together. Granting that the scenic and legendary
romance of the Scottish border wilds were to be made live anew for the
delight of the latter-day world, we seem to see in Walter Scott a man
predestined for the task alike by origin, association, and opportunity.
Had the indwelling spirit of the Cumbrian lakes and mountains, and their
power upon the souls and lives of those living among them, to be newly
revealed and interpreted to the general mind of man, where should we
look for its spokesman but in one of Wordsworth's birth and training?
What, then, it may be asked, of Byron and Shelley, the two great
contrasted poets of revolution, or rather of revolt against the
counter-revolution, in the younger generation,--the one worldly,
mocking, half theatrically rebellious and Satanic, the other unworldly
even to unearthliness, a loving alien among men, more than half truly
angelic? These we are perhaps rightly used to count as offspring of
their age, with its forces and ferments, its violent actions and
reactions, rather than of their ancestry or upbringing. And yet, if we
will, we may fancy Byron inspired in literature by demons of the same
froward brood that had urged others of his lineage on lives of adventure
or of crime, and may conceive that Shelley drew some of his instincts
for headlong, peremptory self-guidance, though in directions most
opposite to the traditional, from the stubborn and wayward stock of
colonial and county aristocracy whence he sprang.

Keats, more purely and exclusively a poet than any of these, and
responding more intuitively than any to the spell alike of ancient
Greece, of mediæval romance, and of the English woods and fields, was
born in a dull and middling walk of London city life, and 'if by
traduction came his mind',--to quote Dryden with a difference,--it was
through channels hidden from our search. From his case less even than
from Shakespeare's can we draw any argument as to the influence of
heredity or environment on the birth and growth of genius. His origin,
in spite of much diligent inquiry, has not been traced beyond one
generation on the father's side and two on the mother's. His father,
Thomas Keats, was a west-country lad who came young to London, and while
still under twenty held the place of head ostler in a livery-stable
kept by a Mr John Jennings in Finsbury. Seven or eight years later,
about the beginning of 1795, he married his employer's daughter, Frances
Jennings, then in her twentieth year. Mr Jennings, who had carried on a
large business in north-eastern London and the neighbouring suburbs, and
was a man of substance, retired about the same time to live in the
country, at Ponder's End near Edmonton, leaving the management of the
business in the hands of his son-in-law. At first the young couple lived
at the stable, at the sign of the Swan and Hoop, Finsbury Pavement,
facing the then open space of Lower Moorfields. Here their eldest child,
the poet JOHN KEATS, was born prematurely on either the 29th or 31st of
October, 1795. A second son, named George, followed on February 28,
1797; a third, Tom, on November 18, 1799; a fourth, Edward, who died in
infancy, on April 28, 1801; and on the 3rd of June, 1803, a daughter,
Frances Mary. In the meantime the family had moved from the stable to a
house in Craven Street, City Road, half a mile farther north.

The Keats brothers as they grew up were remarked for their intense
fraternal feeling and strong vein of family pride. But it was a pride
that looked forward and not back: they were bent on raising the family
name and credit, but seem to have taken no interest at all in its
history, and have left no record or tradition concerning their forbears.
Some of their friends believed their father to have been a Devonshire
man: their sister, who long survived them, said she remembered hearing
as a child that he came from Cornwall, near the Land's End.

There is no positive evidence enabling us to decide the question. The
derivation of English surnames is apt to be complicated and obscure, and
'Keats' is no exception to the rule. It is a name widely distributed in
various counties of England, though not very frequent in any. It may in
some cases be a possessive form derived from the female Christian name
Kate, on the analogy of Jeans from Jane, or Maggs from Margaret: but the
source accepted as generally probable for it and its several variants is
the Middle-English adjective 'kete', a word of Scandinavian origin
meaning bold, gallant. In the form 'Keyte' the name prevails principally
in Warwickshire: in the variants Keat (or Keate) and Keats (or
Keates[1]) it occurs in many of the midland, home, and southern,
especially the south-western, counties.

Mr Thomas Hardy tells me of a Keats family sprung from a horsedealer of
Broadmayne, Dorsetshire, members of which lived within his own memory as
farmers and publicans in and near Dorchester, one or two of them
bearing, as he thought, a striking likeness to the portrait of the poet.
One Keats family of good standing was established by the mid-eighteenth
century in Devon, in the person of a well-known headmaster of Blundell's
school, Tiverton, afterwards rector of Bideford. His son was one of
Nelson's bravest and most famous captains, Sir Richard Godwin Keats of
the 'Superb', and from the same stock sprang in our own day the lady
whose tales of tragic and comic west-country life, published under the
pseudonym 'Zack', gave promise of a literary career which has been
unhappily cut short. But with this Bideford stock the Keats brothers can
have claimed no connexion, or as schoolboys they would assuredly have
made the prowess of their namesake of the 'Superb' their pride and
boast, whereas in fact their ideal naval hero was a much less famous
person, their mother's brother Midgley John Jennings, a tall lieutenant
of marines who served with some credit on Duncan's flagship at
Camperdown and by reason of his stature was said to have been a special
mark for the enemy's musketry. In the form Keat or Keate the name is
common enough both in Devon, particularly near Tiverton, and in
Cornwall, especially in the parishes of St Teath and Lanteglos,--that is
round about Camelford,--and also as far eastward as Callington and
westward as St Columb Major: the last named parish having been the seat
of a family of the name entitled to bear arms and said to have come
originally from Berkshire.

But neither the records of the Dorsetshire family, nor search in the
parish registers of Devon and Cornwall, have as yet yielded the name of
any Thomas Keat or Keats as born in 1768, the birth-year of our poet's
father according to our information. A 'Thomas Keast', however, is
registered as having been born in that year in the parish of St Agnes,
between New Quay and Redruth. Now Keast is a purely Cornish name,
limited to those parts, and it is quite possible that, borne by a
Cornishman coming to London, it would get changed into the far commoner
Keats (a somewhat similar phonetic change is that of Crisp into Cripps).
So the identification of this Thomas Keast of St Agnes as the father of
our Keats is not to be excluded. The Jennings connexion is of itself a
circumstance which may be held to add to the likelihood of a Cornish
origin for the poet, Jennings being a name frequent in the Falmouth
district and occurring as far westward as Lelant. Children are
registered as born in and after 1770 of the marriage of a John Jennings
to a Catherine Keate at Penryn; and it is a plausible conjecture (always
remembering it to be a conjecture and no more) that the prosperous
London stable-keeper Jonn Jennings was himself of Cornish origin, and
that between him and the lad Thomas Keats, whom he took so young first
as head stableman and then as son-in-law, there existed some previous
family connexion or acquaintance. These, however, are matters purely
conjectural, and all we really know about the poet's parents are the
dates above mentioned, and the fact that they were certainly people
somewhat out of the ordinary. Thomas Keats was noticed in his life-time
as a man of sense, spirit, and conduct: 'of so remarkably fine a
commonsense and native respectability,' writes Cowden Clarke, in whose
father's school the poet and his brother were brought up, 'that I
perfectly remember the warm terms in which his demeanour used to be
canvassed by my parents after he had been to visit his boys.' And
again:--'I have a clear recollection of his lively and energetic
countenance, particularly when seated on his gig and preparing to drive
his wife home after visiting his sons at school. In feature, stature,
and manner John resembled his father.' Of Frances Keats, the poet's
mother, we learn more vaguely that she was 'tall, of good figure, with
large oval face, and sensible deportment': and again that she was a
lively, clever, impulsive woman, passionately fond of amusement, and
supposed to have hastened the birth of her eldest child by some
imprudence. Her second son, George, wrote in after life of her and of
her family as follows:--'my grandfather Mr Jennings was very well off,
as his will shows, and but that he was extremely generous and gullible
would have been affluent. I have heard my grandmother speak with
enthusiasm of his excellencies, and Mr Abbey used to say that he never
saw a woman of the talents and sense of my grandmother, except my
mother.'

As to the grandmother and her estimable qualities all accounts are
agreed, but of the mother the witness quoted himself tells a very
different tale. This Mr Richard Abbey was a wholesale tea-dealer in
Saint Pancras Lane and a trusted friend of Mr and Mrs Jennings. In a
memorandum written long after their death he declares that both as girl
and woman their daughter, the poet's mother, was a person of unbridled
temperament, and that in her later years she fell into loose ways and
was no credit to her family.[2] Whatever truth there may be in these
charges, it is certain that she lived to the end under her mother's roof
and was in no way cut off from her children. The eldest boy John in
particular she is said to have held in passionate affection, by him
passionately returned. Once as a young child, when she was ordered to be
left quiet during an illness, he is said to have insisted on keeping
watch at her door with an old sword, and allowing no one to go in.
Haydon, an artist who loved to lay his colours thick, gives this
anecdote of the sword a different turn:--'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 the rescue.' Another trait of the
poet's childhood, mentioned also by Haydon, on the authority of a gammer
who had known him from his birth, is that when he was first learning to
speak, instead of answering sensibly, he had a trick of making a rime to
the last word people said and then laughing.

The parents were ambitious for their boys, and would have liked to send
them to Harrow, but thinking this beyond their means, chose the school
kept by a Mr John Clarke at Enfield. The brothers of Mrs Keats,
including the boys' admired uncle, the lieutenant of marines, had been
educated here, and the school was one of good repute, and of
exceptionally pleasant aspect and surroundings. The school-house had
been originally built for a rich West India merchant, in the finest
style of early Georgian classic architecture, and stood in a spacious
garden at the lower end of the town. When years afterwards the site was
used for a railway station, the old house was for some time allowed to
stand: but later it was taken down, and the central part of the façade,
with its fine proportions and rich ornaments in moulded brick, was
transported to the South Kensington (now Victoria and Albert) Museum,
and is still preserved there as a choice example of the style. It is
evident that Mr Clarke was a kind and excellent schoolmaster, much above
the standards of his time, and that lads with any bent for literature or
scholarship had their full chance under him. Still more was this the
case when his son Charles Cowden Clarke, a genial youth with an ardent
and trained love of books and music, grew old enough to help him as
usher in the school-work. The brothers John and George Keats were mere
children when they were put under Mr Clarke's care, John not much over
and George a good deal under eight years old, both still dressed, we are
told, in the childish frilled suits which give such a grace to groups of
young boys in the drawings of Stothard and his contemporaries.

Not long after Keats had been put to school he lost his father, whose
horse fell and threw him in the City Road as he rode home late one night
after dining at Southgate, perhaps on his way home from the Enfield
School. His skull was fractured: he was picked up unconscious about one
o'clock and died at eight in the morning. This was on the 16th of April,
1804. Within twelve months his widow had taken a second husband--one
William Rawlings, described as 'of Moorgate in the city of London,
stable-keeper,' presumably therefore the successor of her first husband
in the management of her father's business. (It may be noted
incidentally that Rawlings, like Jennings, is a name common in Cornwall,
especially in and about the parish of Madron). This marriage must have
turned out unhappily, for it was soon followed by a separation, under
what circumstances or through whose fault we are not told. In the
correspondence of the Keats brothers after they were grown up no mention
is ever made of their stepfather, of whom the family seem soon to have
lost all knowledge. Mrs Rawlings went with her children to live at
Edmonton, in the house of her mother, Mrs Jennings, who was just about
this time left a widow. The family was well enough provided for, Mr
Jennings (who died March 8, 1805) having left a fortune of over £13,000,
of which, in addition to other legacies, he bequeathed a capital
yielding £200 a year to his widow absolutely; one yielding £50 a year to
his daughter Frances Rawlings, with reversion to her Keats children
after her death; and £1000 to be separately held in trust for the said
children and divided among them on the coming of age of the youngest.

Between the home, then, in Church Street, Edmonton, and the neighbouring
Enfield school, where the two elder brothers were in due time joined by
the youngest, the next five years of Keats's boyhood (1806-1811) were
passed in sufficient comfort and pleasantness. He did not live to attain
the years, or the success, of men who write their reminiscences; and
almost the only recollections he has left of his own early days refer to
holiday times in his grandmother's house at Edmonton. They are conveyed
in some rimes which he wrote years afterwards by way of foolishness to
amuse his young sister, and testify to a partiality, common also to
little boys not of genius, for dabbling by the brookside and keeping
small fishes in tubs,--

  There was a naughty boy             Tittlebat
    And a naughty boy was he          Not over fat,
  He kept little fishes               Minnow small
    In washing tubs three             As the stal
      In spite                        Of a glove
      Of the might                    Not above
      Of the Maid,                    The size
      Nor afraid                      Of a nice
      Of his Granny-good              Little Baby's
      He often would                  Little finger--
      Hurly burly                     O he made
      Get up early                    'Twas his trade
      And go                     Of Fish a pretty kettle
      By hook or crook                A kettle--
      To the brook                    A kettle--
      And bring home             Of Fish a pretty kettle
      Miller's thumb,                 A kettle!

In a later letter to his sister he makes much the same confession in a
different key, when he bids her ask him for any kind of present she
fancies, only not for live stock to be kept in captivity, 'though I will
not now be very severe on it, remembering how fond I used to be of
Goldfinches, Tomtits, Minnows, Mice, Ticklebacks, Dace, Cock salmons and
all the whole tribe of the Bushes and the Brooks.' Despite the changes
which have overbuilt and squalidly or sprucely suburbanized all those
parts of Middlesex, the Pymmes brook still holds its course across half
the county, is still bridged by the main street of Edmonton, and runs
countrywise, clear and open, for some distance along a side street on
its way to join the Lea. Other memories of it, and of his childish
playings and musings beside it, find expression in Keats's poetry where
he makes the shepherd-prince Endymion tell his sister Peona how one of
his love-sick vagaries has been to sit on a stone and bubble up the
water through a reed,--

  So reaching back to boy-hood: make me ships
  Of moulted feathers, touchwood, alder chips,
  With leaves stuck in them; and the Neptune be
  Of their petty ocean.

If we learn little of Keats's early days from his own lips, we have
sufficient testimony as to the impression which he made on his school
companions; which was that of a fiery, generous little fellow, handsome
and passionate, vehement both in tears and laughter, and as placable and
loveable as he was pugnacious. But beneath this bright and mettlesome
outside there lay deep in his nature, even from the first, a strain of
painful sensibility making him subject to moods of unreasonable
suspicion and self-tormenting melancholy. These he was accustomed to
conceal from all except his brothers, to whom he was attached by the
very closest of fraternal ties. George, the second brother, had all
John's spirit of manliness and honour, with a less impulsive disposition
and a cooler blood. From a boy he was the bigger and stronger of the
two: and at school found himself continually involved in fights for, and
not unfrequently with, his small, indomitably fiery senior. Tom, the
youngest, was always delicate, and an object of protecting care as well
as the warmest affection to the other two.

Here are some of George Keats's recollections, written after the death
of his elder brother, and referring partly to their school days and
partly to John's character after he was grown up:

  I loved him from boyhood even when he wronged me, for the goodness of
  his heart and the nobleness of his spirit, before we left school we
  quarrelled often and fought fiercely, and I can safely say and my
  schoolfellows will bear witness that John's temper was the cause of
  all, still we were more attached than brothers ever are.

  From the time we were boys at school, where we loved, jangled, and
  fought alternately, until we separated in 1818, I in a great measure
  relieved him by continual sympathy, explanation, and inexhaustible
  spirits and good humour, from many a bitter fit of hypochondriasm. He
  avoided teazing any one with his miseries but Tom and myself, and
  often asked our forgiveness; venting and discussing them gave him
  relief.

Let us turn now from these honest and warm brotherly reminiscences to
their confirmation in the words of two of Keats's school friends; and
first in those of his junior Edward Holmes, afterwards a musical critic
of note and author of a well-known _Life of Mozart_:--

  Keats was in childhood not attached to books. His _penchant_ was for
  fighting. He would fight any one--morning, noon, and night, his
  brother among the rest. It was meat and drink to him. Jennings their
  sailor relation was always in the thoughts of the brothers, and they
  determined to keep up the family reputation for courage; George in a
  passive manner; John and Tom more fiercely. The favourites of John
  were few; after they were known to fight readily he seemed to prefer
  them for a sort of grotesque and buffoon humour. I recollect at this
  moment his delight at the extraordinary gesticulations and pranks of a
  boy named Wade who was celebrated for this.... He was a boy whom any
  one from his extraordinary vivacity and personal beauty might easily
  fancy would become great--but rather in some military capacity than in
  literature. You will remark that this taste came out rather suddenly
  and unexpectedly. Some books of his I remember reading were _Robinson
  Crusoe_ and something about Montezuma and the Incas of Peru. He must
  have read Shakespeare as he thought that 'no one would care to read
  _Macbeth_ alone in a house at two o'clock in the morning.' This seems
  to me a boyish trait of the poet. His sensibility was as remarkable as
  his indifference to be thought well of by the master as a 'good boy'
  and to his tasks in general.... He was in every way the creature of
  passion.... The point to be chiefly insisted on is that he was _not
  literary--his love of books and poetry manifested itself chiefly about
  a year before he left school_. In all active exercises he excelled.
  The generosity and daring of his character with the extreme beauty and
  animation of his face made I remember an impression on me--and being
  some years his junior I was obliged to woo his friendship--in which I
  succeeded, but not till I had fought several battles. This violence
  and vehemence--this pugnacity and generosity of disposition--in
  passions of tears or outrageous fits of laughter--always in
  extremes--will help to paint Keats in his boyhood. Associated as they
  were with an extraordinary beauty of person and expression, these
  qualities captivated the boys, and no one was more popular.[3]

Entirely to the same effect is the account of Keats given by a school
friend seven or eight years older than himself, to whose appreciation
and encouragement the world most likely owes it that he first became
aware of his own vocation for poetry. This was the aforementioned
Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of the head master, who towards the close
of a long life, during which he had deserved well of literature and of
his generation in more ways than one, wrote retrospectively of Keats:--

  He was a favourite with all. Not the less beloved was he for having a
  highly pugnacious spirit, which when roused was one of the most
  picturesque exhibitions--off the stage--I ever saw. One of the
  transports of that marvellous actor, Edmund Kean--whom, by the way, he
  idolized--was its nearest resemblance; and the two were not very
  dissimilar in face and figure. Upon one occasion when an usher, on
  account of some impertinent behaviour, had boxed his brother Tom's
  ears, John rushed up, put himself into the received posture of
  offence, and, it was said, struck the usher--who could, so to say,
  have put him in his pocket. His passion at times was almost
  ungovernable; and his brother George, being considerably the taller
  and stronger, used frequently to hold him down by main force, laughing
  when John was 'in one of his moods,' and was endeavouring to beat him.
  It was all, however, a wisp-of-straw conflagration; for he had an
  intensely tender affection for his brothers, and proved it upon the
  most trying occasions. He was not merely the favourite of all, like a
  pet prize-fighter, for his terrier courage; but his highmindedness,
  his utter unconsciousness of a mean motive, his placability, his
  generosity, wrought so general a feeling in his behalf, that I never
  heard a word of disapproval from any one, superior or equal, who had
  known him.[4]

The same excellent witness records in agreement with the last that in
his earlier school days Keats showed no particular signs of an
intellectual bent, though always orderly and methodical in what he did.
But during his last few terms, that is in his fifteenth and sixteenth
years, he suddenly became a passionate student and a very glutton of
books. Let us turn again to Cowden Clarke's words:--

  My father was in the habit, at each half-year's vacation, of bestowing
  prizes upon those pupils who had performed the greatest quantity of
  voluntary work; and such was Keats's indefatigable energy for the last
  two or three successive half-years of his remaining at school, that,
  upon each occasion, he took the first prize by a considerable
  distance. He was at work before the first school-hour began, and that
  was at seven o'clock; almost all the intervening times of recreation
  were so devoted; and during the afternoon holidays, when all were at
  play, he would be in the school--almost the only one--at his Latin or
  French translation; and so unconscious and regardless was he of the
  consequences of so close and persevering an application, that he never
  would have taken the necessary exercise had he not been sometimes
  driven out for the purpose by one of the masters....

One of the silver medals awarded to Keats as a school prize in these
days exists in confirmation of this account and was lately in the
market. Cowden Clarke continues:--

  In the latter part of the time--perhaps eighteen months--that he
  remained at school, he occupied the hours during meals in reading.
  Thus, his _whole_ time was engrossed. He had a tolerably retentive
  memory, and the quantity that he read was surprising. He must in those
  last months have exhausted the school library, which consisted
  principally of abridgements of all the voyages and travels of any
  note; Mavor's collection, also his _Universal History_; Robertson's
  histories of Scotland, America, and Charles the Fifth; all Miss
  Edgeworth's productions, together with many other books equally well
  calculated for youth. The books, however, that were his constantly
  recurrent sources of attraction were Tooke's _Pantheon_, Lemprière's
  _Classical Dictionary_, which he appeared to _learn_, and Spence's
  _Polymetis_. This was the store whence he acquired his intimacy with
  the Greek mythology; here was he 'suckled in that creed outworn;' for
  his amount of classical attainment extended no farther than the
  _Æneid_, with which epic, indeed, he was so fascinated that before
  leaving school he had _voluntarily_ translated in writing a
  considerable portion....

  He must have gone through all the better publications in the school
  library, for he asked me to lend him some of my own books; and, in my
  'mind's eye,' I now see him at supper (we had our meals in the
  schoolroom), sitting back on the form, from the table, holding the
  folio volume of Burnet's _History of his Own Time_ between himself and
  the table, eating his meal from beyond it. This work, and Leigh Hunt's
  _Examiner_--which my father took in, and I used to lend to Keats--no
  doubt laid the foundation of his love of civil and religious liberty.

In the midst of these ardent studies of Keats's latter school days
befell the death of his mother, who had been for some time in failing
health. First she was disabled by chronic rheumatism, and at last fell
into a rapid consumption, which carried her off at the age of
thirty-five in February 1810. We are told with what devotion her eldest
boy attended her sick-bed,--'he sat up whole nights with her in a great
chair, would suffer nobody to give her medicine, or even cook her food,
but himself, and read novels to her in her intervals of ease,'--and how
bitterly he mourned for her when she was gone,--'he gave way to such
impassioned and prolonged grief (hiding himself in a nook under the
master's desk) as awakened the liveliest pity and sympathy in all who
saw him.'

From her, no doubt, came that predisposition to consumption which showed
itself in her youngest son from adolescence and carried him off at
nineteen, and with the help of ill luck, over-exertion, and distress of
mind, wrecked also before twenty-five the robust-seeming frame and
constitution of her eldest, the poet. Were the accounts of her character
less ambiguous, or were the strands of human heredity less inveterately
entangled than they are, it would be tempting, when we consider the deep
duality of Keats's nature, the trenchant contrast between the two selves
that were in him, to trace to the mother the seeds of one of those
selves, the feverishly over-sensitive and morbidly passionate one, and
to his father the seeds of the other, the self that was all manly good
sense and good feeling and undisturbed clear vision and judgment. In the
sequel we shall see this fine virile self in Keats continually and
consciously battling against the other, trying to hold it down, and
succeeding almost always in keeping control over his ways and dealings
with his fellow-men, though not over the inward frettings of his spirit.

In the July following her daughter's death, Mrs Jennings, being desirous
to make the best provision she could for her orphan grand-children, 'in
consideration of the natural love and affection which she had for them,'
executed a deed putting them under the care of two guardians, to whom
she made over, to be held in trust for their benefit from the date of
the instrument, the chief part of the property which she derived from
her late husband under his will.[5] The guardians were Mr Rowland
Sandell, merchant, who presently renounced the trust, and the aforesaid
Mr Richard Abbey, tea-dealer. Mrs Jennings survived the execution of
this deed more than four years,[6] but Mr Abbey seems at once to have
taken up all the responsibilities of the trust. Under his authority John
Keats was withdrawn from school at the end of the summer term, 1811,
when he was some months short of sixteen, and made to put on harness for
the practical work of life. With no opposition, so far as we learn, on
his own part, he was bound apprentice to a Mr Thomas Hammond, a surgeon
and apothecary of good repute at Edmonton, for the customary term of
five years.[7]

The years between the sixteenth and twentieth of his age are the most
critical of a young man's life, and in these years, during which our
other chief London-born poets, Spenser, Milton, Gray, were profiting by
the discipline of Cambridge and the Muses, Keats had no better or more
helpful regular training than that of an ordinary apprentice, apparently
one of several, in a suburban surgery. But he had the one advantage, to
him inestimable, of proximity to his old school, which meant free
access to the school library and continued encouragement and advice in
reading from his affectionate senior, the head master's son. The fact
that it was only two miles' walk from Edmonton to Enfield helped much,
says Cowden Clarke, to reconcile him to his new way of life, and his
duties at the surgery were not onerous. As laid down in the ordinary
indentures of apprenticeship in those times, they were indeed chiefly
negative, the apprentice binding himself 'not to haunt taverns or
playhouses, not to play at dice or cards, nor absent himself from his
said master's service day or night unlawfully, but in all things as a
faithful apprentice he shall behave himself towards the said master and
all his during the said term.'

Keats himself, it is recorded, did not love talking of his apprentice
days, and has left no single written reference to them except the
much-quoted phrase in a letter of 1819, in which, speaking of the
continual processes of change in the human tissues, he says, 'this is
not the same hand which seven years ago clenched itself at Hammond.' It
was natural that the same fiery temper which made him as a small boy
square up against an usher on behalf of his brother,--an offence which
the headmaster, according to his son Cowden Clarke, 'felt he could not
severely punish,'--it was natural that this same temper should on
occasion flame out against his employer the surgeon. If Keats's words
are to be taken literally, this happened in the second year of his
apprenticeship. Probably it was but the affair of a moment: there is no
evidence of any habitual disagreement or final breach between them, and
Keats was able to put in the necessary testimonial from Mr Hammond when
he presented himself in due course for examination before the Court of
Apothecaries. A fellow-apprentice in after years remembered him as 'an
idle loafing fellow, always writing poetry.' This, seeing that he did
not begin to write till he was near eighteen, must refer to the last two
years of his apprenticeship and probably represents an unlettered view
of his way of employing his leisure, rather (judging by his general
character) than any slackness in the performance of actual duty. One of
the very few glimpses we have of him from outside is from Robert Hengist
Horne ('Orion' Horne), another alumnus of the Enfield school who lived
to make his mark in literature. Horne remembered Mr Hammond driving on a
professional visit to the school one winter day and leaving Keats to
take care of the gig. While Keats sat in a brown study holding the
reins, young Horne, remembering his school reputation as a boxer, in
bravado threw a snowball at him and hit, but made off into safety before
Keats could get at him to inflict punishment. The story suggests a
picture to the eye but tells nothing to the mind.

Our only real witness for this time of Keats's life is Cowden Clarke. He
tells us how the lad's newly awakened passion for the pleasures of
literature and the imagination was not to be stifled, and how at
Edmonton he plunged back into his school occupations of reading and
translating whenever he could spare the time. He finished at this time
his prose version of the _Aeneid_, and on free afternoons and evenings,
five or six times a month or oftener, was in the habit of walking over
to Enfield,--by that field path where Lamb found the stiles so many and
so hard to tackle,--to see his friend Cowden Clarke and bring away or
return borrowed books. Young Clarke was an ardent liberal and disciple
of Leigh Hunt both in political opinions and literary taste. In summer
weather he and Keats would sit in a shady arbour in the old school
garden, the elder reading poetry to the younger, and enjoying his looks
and exclamations of delight. From the nature of Keats's imitative first
flights in verse, it is clear that though he hated the whole 'Augustan'
and post-Augustan tribe of social and moral essayists in verse, and
Pope, their illustrious master, most of all, yet his mind and ear had
become familiar, in the course of his school and after-school reading,
with Thomson, Collins, Gray, and all the more romantically minded poets
of the middle and later eighteenth century. But the essential service
Clarke did him was in pressing upon his attention the poetry of the
great Elizabethan and Jacobean age, from _The Shepheard's Calendar_ down
to _Comus_ and _Lycidas_,--'our older and nobler poetry,' as a few had
always held it to be even through the Age of Reason and the reign of
Pope and his followers, and as it was now loudly proclaimed to be by all
the innovating critics, with Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt among the foremost.

On a momentous day for Keats, Cowden Clarke introduced him for the first
time to Spenser, reading him the _Epithalamion_ in the afternoon and at
his own eager request lending him the _Faerie Queene_ to take away the
same evening. With Spenser's later imitators, playful or serious, as
Shenstone and Thomson, Beattie and the more recent Mrs Tighe, Keats, we
know, was already familiar; indeed he owned later to a passing phase of
boyish delight in Beattie's _Minstrel_ and Tighe's languorously romantic
_Psyche_. But now he found himself taken to the fountain head, and was
enraptured. It has been said, and truly, that no one who has not had the
good fortune to be attracted to the _Faerie Queene_ in boyhood can ever
quite wholeheartedly and to the full enjoy it. The maturer student,
appreciate as he may its innumerable beauties and noble ethical temper,
can hardly fail to be critically conscious also of its arbitrary forms
of rime and language, and sated by its melodious redundance: he will
perceive its faults now of scholastic pedantry and now of flagging
inspiration, the perplexity and discontinuousness of the allegory, and
the absence of real and breathing humanity amidst all that luxuriance of
symbolic and decorative invention, and prodigality of romantic incident
and detail. It is otherwise with the greedy and indiscriminate
imaginative appetite of boyhood. I speak as one of the fortunate who
know by experience that for a boy there is no poetical revelation like
the _Faerie Queene_, no pleasure equal to the pleasure of being rapt for
the first time along that ever-buoyant stream of verse, by those rivers
and forests of enchantment, glades and wildernesses alive with glancing
figures of knight and lady, oppressor and champion, mage and
Saracen,--with masque and combat, pursuit and rescue, the chivalrous
shapes and hazards of the woodland, and beauty triumphant or in
distress. Through the new world thus opened to him Keats went ranging
with delight: 'ramping' is Cowden Clarke's word: he showed moreover his
own instinct for the poetical art by fastening with critical enthusiasm
on epithets of special felicity or power. For instance, says his friend,
'he hoisted himself up, and looked burly and dominant, as he said, "What
an image that is--_sea-shouldering whales_!"'

Spenser has been often proved not only a great awakener of the love of
poetry in youth, but a great fertilizer of the germs of original
poetical power where they exist; and Charles Brown, Keats's most
intimate companion during the two last years of his life, states
positively that it was to the inspiration of the _Faerie Queene_ that
his first notion of attempting to write was due. 'Though born to be a
poet, he was ignorant of his birthright until he had completed his
eighteenth year. It was the _Faerie Queene_ that awakened his genius. In
Spenser's fairy-land he was enchanted, breathed in a new world, and
became another being; till enamoured of the stanza, he attempted to
imitate it, and succeeded. This account of the sudden development of his
poetic powers I first received from his brothers and afterwards from
himself. This, his earliest attempt, the _Imitation of Spenser_, is in
his first volume of poems, and it is peculiarly interesting to those
acquainted with his history.' Cowden Clarke places the attempt two years
earlier, but his memory for dates was, as he owns, the vaguest. We may
fairly take Brown to be on this point the better informed of the two,
and may assume that it was some time in the second year after he left
school that the Spenser fever took hold on Keats, and with it the
longing to be himself a poet. But it was not with Spenser alone, it was
with other allegoric and narrative poets as well, his followers or
contemporaries, that Keats was in these days gaining acquaintance. Not
quite in his earliest, but still in his very early, attempts, we find
clear traces of familiarity with the work both of William Browne of
Tavistock and of Michael Drayton, and we can conceive how in that
charming ingenuous retrospect of Drayton's on his boyish vocation to
poetry, addressed to his friend Henry Reynolds, Keats will have smiled
to find an utterance of the same passion that had just awakened in his
own not very much maturer self.

Let it be remembered moreover that the years of Keats's school days and
apprenticeship were also those of the richest and most stimulating
outburst of the new poetry in England. To name only their chief
products,--the _Lyrical Ballads_ of Coleridge and Wordsworth had come
while he was only a child: during his school days had appeared
Wordsworth's still richer and not less challenging volumes of 1807, and
the succession of Scott's romantic lays (but these last, in spite of
their enormous public success, it was in circles influenced by Leigh
Hunt not much the fashion to admire): during his apprentice years at
Edmonton, the two first cantos of Byron's _Childe Harold_ and the still
more overwhelmingly successful series of his Eastern tales: and finally
Wordsworth's _Excursion_, with which almost from the first Keats was
profoundly impressed. But it was not, of course, only by reading poetry
that he was learning to be a poet. Nature was quite as much his teacher
as books; and the nature within easy reach of him, tame indeed and
unimpressive in comparison with Wordsworth's lakes and mountains, had
quite enough of vital English beauty to afford fair seed-time to his
soul. Across the levels of the Lea valley, not then disfigured as they
are now by factories and reservoir works and the squalor of sprawling
suburbs, rose the softly shagged undulations of Epping forest, a region
which no amount of Cockney frequentation or prosaic vicinity can ever
quite strip of its primitive romance. Westward over Hornsey to the
Highgate and Hampstead heights, north-westward through Southgate towards
the Barnets, and thence in a sweep by the remains of Enfield Chase, was
a rich tract of typically English country, a country of winding
elm-shadowed lanes, of bosky hedge and thicket and undulating
pasture-land charmingly diversified with parks and pleasaunces. Nearly
such I can myself remember it some sixty years ago, and even now, off
the tram-frequented highways and between the devastating encroachments
of bricks and mortar, forlorn patches of its ancient pastoral self are
still to be found lurking.

It was in his rambles afield in these directions and in his habitual
afternoon and evening strolls to Enfield and back, that a delighted
sense of the myriad activities of nature's life in wood and field and
brook and croft and hedgerow began to possess Keats's mind, and to blend
with the beautiful images that already peopled it from his readings in
Greek mythology, and to be enhanced into a strange supernatural thrill
by the recurring magic of moonlight. It is only in adolescence that such
delights can be drunk in, not with conscious study and observation but
passively and half unaware through all the pores of being, and no youth
ever drank them in more deeply than Keats. Not till later came for him,
or comes for any man, the time when the images so absorbed, and the
emotions and sympathies so awakened, define and develop themselves in
consciousness and discover with effort and practice the secret of
rightly expressing themselves in words.

After Keats, under the stimulus of Spenser, had taken his first plunge
into verse, he went on writing occasional sonnets and other pieces:
secretly and shyly at first like all other young poets: at least it was
not until some two years later, in the spring of 1815, that he showed
anything that he had written to his friend and confidant Cowden Clarke.
This was a sonnet on the release of Leigh Hunt after serving a two
years' sentence of imprisonment for a political offence. Clarke relates
how he was walking in to London from Enfield to call on and congratulate
the ex-prisoner, whom he not only revered as a martyr in the cause of
liberty but knew and admired personally, when Keats met him and turned
back to accompany him part of the way. 'At the last field-gate, when
taking leave, he gave me the sonnet entitled _Written on the day that Mr
Leigh Hunt left prison_. This I feel to be the first proof I had
received of his having committed himself in verse; and how clearly do I
remember the conscious look and hesitation with which he offered it!
There are some momentary glances by beloved friends that fade only with
life.' About a score of the pieces which Keats had written and kept
secret during the preceding two years are preserved, and like the work
of almost all beginners are quite imitative and conventional, failing to
express anything original or personal to himself. They include the
aforesaid Spenserian stanzas, which in fact echo the cadences of
Thomson's _Castle of Indolence_ much more than those of Spenser himself;
an ode to Hope, quite in the square-toed manner of eighteenth century
didactic verse, and another to Apollo, in which style and expression owe
everything to Gray; a set of octosyllabics recording, this time with
some touch of freshness, a momentary impression of a woman's beauty
received one night at Vauxhall, and so intense that it continued to
haunt his memory for years; two sets of verses addressed in a vein of
polite parlour compliment to lady friends at the seaside; and several
quite feeble sonnets in the Wordsworthian form, among them one on the
peace of Paris in 1814, one on Chatterton and one on Byron.

Of Keats's outward ways and doings during these days when he was growing
to manhood we know nothing directly except from Cowden Clarke, and can
only gather a little more by inference. It is clear that he enjoyed a
certain amount of liberty and holiday, more, perhaps, than would have
fallen to the lot of a more zealous apprentice, and that he spent part
of his free time in London in the society of his brother George, at this
time a clerk in Mr Abbey's counting-house, and of friends to whom George
made him known. Among these were the family of an officer of marines
named Wylie, to whose charming daughter, Georgiana, George Keats a
little later became engaged, and another family of prosperous
tradespeople named Mathew. Here too there were daughters, Caroline and
Ann, who made themselves pleasant to the Keats brothers, and to whom
were addressed the pair of complimentary jingles already mentioned. One
of the sisters, asked in later life for her recollections of the time,
replied in a weariful strain of evangelical penitence for the
frivolities of those days, and found nothing more to the purpose to say
of Keats than this:--'I cannot go further than say I always thought he
had a very beautiful countenance and was very warm and enthusiastic in
his character. He wrote a great deal of poetry at our house but I do not
recollect whether I ever had any of it, I certainly have none now; Ann
had many pieces of his.' A cousin of this family, one George Felton
Mathew, was a youth of sensibility and poetical leanings, and became for
a time an intimate friend of Keats, and next to his brothers and Cowden
Clarke the closest confidant of his studies and ambitions. Their
intimacy began in the Edmonton days and lasted through the earlier
months of his student life in London. Looking back upon their relations
after some thirty years, Mr Felton Mathew, then a supernumerary official
of the Poor Law Board, struggling meekly under the combined strain of a
precarious income, a family of twelve children, and a turn for the
interpretation of prophecy, wrote as follows:--

  Keats and I though about the same age, and both inclined to
  literature, were in many respects as different as two individuals
  could be. He enjoyed good health--a fine flow of animal spirits--was
  fond of company--could amuse himself admirably with the frivolities
  of life--and had great confidence in himself. I, on the other hand was
  languid and melancholy--fond of repose--thoughtful beyond my
  years--and diffident to the last degree. But I always delighted in
  administering to the happiness of others: and being one of a large
  family, it pleased me much to see him and his brother George enjoy
  themselves so much at our little domestic concerts and dances.... He
  was of the sceptical and republican school. An advocate for the
  innovations which were making progress in his time. A faultfinder with
  everything established. I, on the contrary, hated controversy and
  dispute--dreaded discord and disorder--loved the institutions of my
  country.... But I respected Keats' opinions, because they were
  sincere--refrained from subjects on which we differed, and only asked
  him to concede with me the imperfection of human knowledge, and the
  fallibility of human judgment: while he, on his part, would often
  express regret on finding that he had given pain or annoyance by
  opposing with ridicule or asperity the opinions of others.

Of Keats's physical appearance and poetical preferences the same witness
writes further:--

  A painter or a sculptor might have taken him for a study after the
  Greek masters, and have given him 'a station like the herald Mercury,
  new lighted on some heaven-kissing hill.' His eye admired more the
  external decorations than felt the deep emotions of the Muse. He
  delighted in leading you through the mazes of elaborate description,
  but was less conscious of the sublime and the pathetic. He used to
  spend many evenings in reading to me, but I never observed the tears
  in his eyes nor the broken voice which are indicative of extreme
  sensibility. These indeed were not the parts of poetry which he took
  pleasure in pointing out.

This last, it should be noted, seems in pretty direct contradiction with
one of Cowden Clarke's liveliest recollections as follows:--'It was a
treat to see as well as hear him read a pathetic passage. Once when
reading _Cymbeline_ aloud, I saw his eyes fill with tears, and his voice
faltered when he came to the departure of Posthumus, and Imogen saying
she would have watched him--

                  Till the diminution
  Of space had pointed him sharp as my needle;
  Nay follow'd him till _he had melted from
  The smallness of a gnat to air_; and then
  Have turn'd mine eye and wept.'

Early in the autumn of 1815, a few weeks before his twentieth birthday,
Keats left the service of Mr Hammond, his indentures having apparently
been cancelled by consent, and went to live in London as a student at
the hospitals, then for teaching purposes united, of Guy's and St
Thomas's. What befell him during the eighteen months that followed, and
how his career as a student came to an end, will be told in the next two
chapters.[8]


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Between the forms with and without the final 's' there is no hard
    and fast line to be drawn, one getting changed into the other either
    regularly, by the normal addition of the possessive or patronymic
    suffix, or casually, through our mere English habit of phonetic
    carelessness and slipshod pronunciation. I learn from a correspondent
    belonging to the very numerous St Teath stock, and signing and known
    only as Keat, that other members of his family call themselves Keats.
    And my friend Mr F. B. Keate, working-man poet and politician of
    Bristol, whose forbears came from Tiverton and earlier probably from
    St Teath, assures me that he is addressed Keates in speech and
    writing as often as not. There are several families in Bristol, most
    of them coming from Wilts or (as the famous flogging headmaster of
    Eton came) from Somerset, whose names are spelt and spoken Keat or
    Keats and Keate or Keates indifferently.

  [2] This document, a memorandum written for the information of
    Keats's friend and publisher, John Taylor, was sold in London in
    1907. I saw and took rough note of it before the sale, meaning to
    follow it up afterwards: but circumstances kept me otherwise fully
    occupied, and later I found that the buyer, a well known and friendly
    bookseller, had unfortunately mislaid it: neither has he since been
    able to recover it from among the chronic congestion of his shelves.

  [3] Houghton MSS.

  [4] Charles Cowden Clarke,_ Recollection of Writers_, 1878.

  [5] _Rawlings v. Jennings._

  [6] She was buried at St Stephen's, Colman Street, Decr. 19, 1814,
    aged 78.

  [7] Mistakes have crept into the received statements (my own
    included) as to the dates when Keats's apprenticeship began and
    ended. The witnesses on whom we have chiefly to depend wrote from
    thirty to fifty years after the events they were trying to recall,
    and some of them, Cowden Clarke especially, had avowedly no memory
    for dates. The accepted date of Keats's leaving school and going as
    apprentice to Mr Hammond at Edmonton has hitherto been the autumn of
    1810, the end of his fifteenth year. It should have been the late
    summer of 1811, well on in his sixteenth, as is proved by the
    discovery of a copy of Bonnycastle's _Astronomy_ given him as a prize
    at the end of the midsummer term that year (see _Bulletin of the
    Keats-Shelley Memorial_, Rome, 1913, p. 23). On the other hand we
    have material evidence of his having left by the following year, in
    the shape of an Ovid presented to him from the school and inscribed
    with a fine writing-master's flourish, 'JOHN KEATS, emer: 1812;'
    _emer_, added in a fainter ink, is of course for _emeritus_, a boy
    who has left school. This book is in the Dilke collection of Keats
    relics at Hampstead, and the inscription has been supposed to be
    Keats's own, which it manifestly is not. Another school-book of
    Keats's, of five years' earlier date, has lately been presented to
    the same collection: this is the French-English grammar of
    Duverger,--inscribed in much the same calligraphy with his name and
    the date 1807. He must have studied it to some purpose, if we may
    judge by the good reading knowledge of French which he clearly
    possessed when he was grown up.

  [8] Surmise, partly founded on the vague recollections of former
    fellow-students, has hitherto dated this step a year earlier, in the
    autumn of 1814. But the publication of the documents relating to
    Keats from the books of the hospital show that this is an error. He
    was not entered as a student at Guy's till October 1, 1815. If he had
    moved to London, as has been supposed, a year earlier, he would have
    had nothing to do there, nor is it the least likely that his guardian
    would have permitted such removal. That he came straight from Mr
    Hammond's to Guy's, without any intermediate period of study
    elsewhere, is certain both from a note to that effect against the
    entry of his name in the hospital books, and from the explicit
    statement of his fellow-student and sometime housemate, Mr Henry
    Stephens. It results that the period of his life as hospital student
    in a succession of London lodgings must be cut down from the supposed
    two years and a half, October 1814-April 1817, to one year and a
    half, Oct. 1815-April 1817. There is no difficulty about this, and I
    think that both as to his leaving school and his going to London the
    facts and dates set forth in the present chapter may be taken as well
    established.



CHAPTER II

OCTOBER 1815-MARCH 1817: HOSPITAL STUDIES: POETICAL AMBITIONS: LEIGH
HUNT

  Hospital days: summary--Aptitudes and ambitions--Teachers--Testimony
  of Henry Stephens--Pride and other characteristics--Evidences of a
  wandering mind--Services of Cowden Clarke--Introduction to Leigh
  Hunt--Summer walks at Hampstead--Holiday epistles from Margate--Return
  to London--First reading of Chapman's Homer--Date of the Chapman
  sonnet--Intimacy with Leigh Hunt--The _Examiner_: Hunt's
  imprisonment--His visitors in captivity--His occupations--_The Feast
  of the poets_--Hunt's personality and charm--His ideas of poetical
  reform--_The story of Rimini_--Its popularity--Dante and
  namby-pamby--Hunt's life at Hampstead--Hunt and Keats compared--Keats
  at Hunt's cottage--Prints in the library--The intercoronation
  scene--Sonnets of Hunt to Keats--Sonnets of Keats to Hunt--Keats's
  penitence.


The external and technical facts of Keats's life as a medical student
are these. His name, as we have said, was entered at Guy's as a six
months' student (surgeon's pupil) on October 1, 1815, a month before his
twentieth birthday. Four weeks later he was appointed dresser to one of
the hospital surgeons, Mr Lucas. At the close of his first six months'
term, March 3, 1816, he entered for a further term of twelve months. On
July 25, 1816, he presented himself for examination before the Court of
Apothecaries and obtained their licence to practise. He continued to
attend lectures and live the regular life of a student; but early in the
spring of 1817, being now of age and on the eve of publishing his first
volume of verse, he determined to abandon the pursuit of medicine for
that of poetry, declared his intention to his guardian, and ceased
attending the hospitals without seeking or receiving the usual
certificate of proficiency. For the first two or three months of this
period, from the beginning of October 1815 till about the new year of
1816, Keats lodged alone at 8 Dean Street, Borough, and then for half a
year or more with several other students over the shop of a tallow
chandler named Markham[1] in St Thomas's Street. Thence, in the summer
or early autumn of 1816, leaving the near neighbourhood of the
hospitals, he went to join his brothers in rooms in The Poultry, over a
passage leading to the Queen's Head Tavern. Finally, early in 1817, they
all three moved for a short time to 76 Cheapside. For filling up this
skeleton record, we have some traditions of the hospital concerning
Keats's teachers, some recollections of fellow students,--of one, Mr
Henry Stephens, in particular,--together with further reminiscences by
Cowden Clarke and impressions recorded in after years by one and another
of a circle of acquaintances which fast expanded. Moreover Keats begins
during this period to tell something of his own story, in the form of a
few poems of a personal tenor and a very few letters written to and
preserved by his friends.

As to his hospital work, it is clear that though his heart was not in it
and his thoughts were prone to wander, and though he held and declared
that poetry was the only thing worth living for, yet when he chose he
could bend his mind and will to the tasks before him. The operations
which as dresser he performed or assisted in are said to have proved him
no fumbler. When he went up for examination before the Court of
Apothecaries he passed with ease and credit, somewhat to the surprise of
his fellow students, who put his success down to his knowledge of Latin
rather than of medicine. Later, after he had abandoned the profession,
he was always ready to speak or act with a certain authority in cases of
illness or emergency, and though hating the notion of practice
evidently did not feel himself unqualified for it so far as knowledge
went. He could not find in the scientific part of the study a satisfying
occupation for his thoughts; and though a few years later, when he had
realized that there is no kind of knowledge but may help to nourish a
poet's mind, he felt unwilling to lose hold of what he had learned as
apprentice and student, he was never caught by that special passion of
philosophical curiosity which laid hold for a season on Coleridge and
Shelley successively, and drew them powerfully towards the study of the
mechanism and mysteries of the human frame. The practical
responsibilities of the profession at the same time weighed upon him,
and he was conscious of a kind of absent uneasy wonder at his own skill.
Once when Cowden Clarke asked him about his prospects and feelings in
regard to his profession, he frankly declared his own sense of his
unfitness for it; with reasons such as this, that 'the other day, during
the lecture, there came a sunbeam into the room, and with it a whole
troop of creatures floating in the ray; and I was off with them to
Oberon and fairy-land.' 'My last operation,' he once told another
friend, 'was the opening of a man's temporal artery. I did it with the
utmost nicety, but reflecting on what passed through my mind at the
time, my dexterity seemed a miracle, and I never took up the lancet
again.'

The surgeon to whom he was specially assigned as pupil, Mr Lucas, seems
to have had few qualifications as a teacher. We have the following
lively character of him from a man afterwards highly honoured in the
profession, John Flint South, who walked the hospitals at the same time
as Keats:--'A tall ungainly awkward man, with stooping shoulders and a
shuffling walk, as deaf as a post, not overburdened with brains, but
very good natured and easy, and liked by everyone. His surgical
acquirements were very small, his operations generally very badly
performed, and accompanied with much bungling, if not worse.' But the
teacher from whom Keats will really, as all witnesses agree, have
learnt the best of what he knew was the great dissector and anatomist,
Astley Cooper, then almost in the zenith of his power as a lecturer and
of his popular fame and practice. He is described as one of the
handsomest and most ingratiating of men, as well as one of the most
indefatigable and energetic, with an admirable gift of exposition made
racy by a strong East Anglian accent; and it is on record that he took
an interest in young Keats, and recommended him to the special care of
his own dresser and namesake, George Cooper. It was in consequence of
this recommendation that Keats left his solitary lodging in Dean Street
and went to live as housemate in St Thomas's Street with three other
students, the aforesaid George Cooper, one George Wilson Mackereth, and
Henry Stephens, the last-named afterwards a surgeon in good repute as
well as a dabbler in dramatic literature. It is from Stephens that we
get much the fullest picture of Keats in these student days. I give the
pith of his reminiscences, partly as quoted from his conversation by an
intimate friend in the same profession, Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson,[2]
partly as written down by himself for Lord Houghton's information in
1847.[3]

  Whether it was in the latter part of the year 1815 or the early part
  of the year 1816 that my acquaintance with John Keats commenced I
  cannot say. We were both students at the united hospitals of St
  Thomas's and Guy's, and we had apartments in a house in St Thomas's
  Street, kept by a decent respectable woman of the name of Mitchell I
  think. [After naming his other fellow students, the witness goes
  on]--John Keats being alone, and to avoid the expense of having a
  sitting room to himself, asked to join us, which we readily acceded
  to. We were therefore constant companions, and the following is what I
  recollect of his previous history from conversation with him. Of his
  parentage I know nothing, for upon that subject I never remember his
  speaking, I think he was an orphan. He had been apprenticed to a Mr
  Hammond surgeon of Southgate from whence he came on the completion of
  his time to the hospitals. His passion, if I may so call it, for
  poetry was soon manifested. He attended lectures and went through the
  usual routine but he had no desire to excel in that pursuit.... He was
  called by his fellow students 'little Keats,' being at his full growth
  no more than five feet high.... In a room, he was always at the
  window, peering into space, so that the window-seat was spoken of by
  his comrades as Keats's place.... In the lecture room he seemed to sit
  apart and to be absorbed in something else, as if the subject
  suggested thoughts to him which were not practically connected with
  it. He was often in the subject and out of it, in a dreamy way.

  He never attached much consequence to his own studies in medicine, and
  indeed looked upon the medical career as the career by which to live
  in a workaday world, without being certain that he could keep up the
  strain of it. He nevertheless had a consciousness of his own powers,
  and even of his own greatness, though it might never be recognised....
  Poetry was to his mind the zenith of all his aspirations: the only
  thing worthy the attention of superior minds: so he thought: all other
  pursuits were mean and tame. He had no idea of fame or greatness but
  as it was connected with the pursuits of poetry, or the attainment of
  poetical excellence. The greatest men in the world were the poets and
  to rank among them was the chief object of his ambition. It may
  readily be imagined that this feeling was accompanied with a good deal
  of pride and conceit, and that amongst mere medical students he would
  walk and talk as one of the Gods might be supposed to do when mingling
  with mortals. This pride exposed him, as may be readily imagined, to
  occasional ridicule, and some mortification.

  Having a taste and liking for poetry myself, though at that time but
  little cultivated, he regarded me as something a little superior to
  the rest, and would gratify himself frequently by showing me some
  lines of his writing, or some new idea which he had struck out. We had
  frequent conversation on the merits of particular poets, but our
  tastes did not agree. He was a great admirer of Spenser, his _Faerie
  Queene_ was a great favourite with him. Byron was also in favour, Pope
  he maintained was no poet, only a versifier. He was fond of imagery,
  the most trifling similes appeared to please him. Sometimes I ventured
  to show him some lines which I had written, but I always had the
  mortification of hearing them condemned, indeed he seemed to think it
  presumption in me to attempt to tread along the same pathway as
  himself at however humble a distance.

  He had two brothers, who visited him frequently, and they worshipped
  him. They seemed to think their brother John was to be exalted, and
  to exalt the family name. I remember a student from St Bartholomew's
  Hospital who came often to see him, as they had formerly been
  intimate, but though old friends they did not cordially agree.
  Newmarsh or Newmarch (I forget which was his name) was a classical
  scholar, as was Keats, and therefore they scanned freely the
  respective merits of the Poets of Greece and Rome. Whenever Keats
  showed Newmarch any of his poetry it was sure to be ridiculed and
  severely handled.

  Newmarch was a light-hearted and merry fellow, but I thought he was
  rather too fond of mortifying Keats, but more particularly his
  brothers, as their praise of their brother John amounted almost to
  idolatry, and Newmarch and they frequently quarrelled. Whilst
  attending lectures he would sit and instead of copying out the
  lecture, would often scribble some doggrel rhymes among the notes of
  Lecture, particularly if he got hold of another student's syllabus. In
  my syllabus of chemical lectures he scribbled many lines on the paper
  cover. This cover has been long torn off, except one small piece on
  which is the following fragment of doggrel rhyme:--

    Give me women, wine and snuff
    Until I cry out, 'hold! enough'
    You may do so, sans objection
    Until the day of resurrection.

  This is all that remains, and is the only piece of his writing which
  is now in my possession. He was gentlemanly in his manners and when he
  condescended to talk upon other subjects he was agreeable and
  intelligent. He was quick and apt at learning, when he chose to give
  his attention to any subject. He was a steady quiet and well behaved
  person, never inclined to pursuits of a low or vicious character.

The last words need to be read in the light of the convivial snatch of
verse quoted just above. Keats in these days was no rake, indeed, but
neither was he a puritan: his passions were strong in proportion to the
general intensity of his being: and his ardent absorption in poetry and
study did not save him from the risks and slips incident to appetite and
hot blood.

Another fellow student relates:--'even in the lecture room of St
Thomas's I have seen Keats in a deep poetic dream; his mind was on
Parnassus with the Muses. And here is a quaint fragment which he one
evening scribbled in our presence, while the precepts of Sir Astley
Cooper fell unheeded on his ear.' The fragment tells how Alexander the
Great saw and loved a lady of surpassing beauty on his march through
India, and reads like the beginning of an attempt to tell the story of
the old French _Lai d'Aristote_ in the style and spelling of an
early-printed English prose romance,--possibly the _Morte d'Arthure_.
Into his would-be archaic prose, luxuriantly describing the lady's
beauty, Keats works in tags taken direct from Spenser and Shakespeare
and Milton, all three. He no doubt knew this favourite mediæval
tale--that of the Indian damsel whose charms enslaved first Alexander in
the midst of his conquests and then his tutor Aristotle--either in the
eighteenth-century prose version of Le Grand or the recent English verse
translation by G. L. Way, who turns the tale in couplets of this
style:--

  At the first glance all dreams of conquest fade
  And his first thought is of his Indian maid.

I cannot but think the Indian maiden of this story must have been still
lingering in Keats's imagination when he devised the episode of that
other Indian maiden in the fourth book of _Endymion_.[4]

Besides these records, we have an actual tangible relic to show how
Keats's attention in the lecture room was now fixed and now wandered, in
the shape of a notebook in which some other student has begun to put
down anatomy notes and Keats has followed. Beginning from both ends, he
has made notes of an anatomical and also of a surgical course, which are
not those of a lax or inaccurate student, but full and close as far as
they go; only squeezed into the margins of one or two pages there are
signs of flagging attention in the shape of sketches, rather prettily
touched, of a pansy and other flowers.[5]

After the first weeks of autumn gloom spent in solitary lodgings in the
dingiest part of London, Keats expresses, in a rimed epistle to Felton
Mathew, the fear lest his present studies and surroundings should stifle
the poetic faculty in him altogether. About the same time he takes pains
to get into touch again with Cowden Clarke, who had by this time left
Enfield and was living with a brother-in-law in Clerkenwell. In a letter
unluckily not dated, but certainly belonging to these first autumn weeks
in London, Keats writes to Clarke:--'Although the Borough is a beastly
place in dirt, turnings, and windings, yet No 8, Dean Street, is not
difficult to find; and if you would run the gauntlet over London Bridge,
take the first turning to the right, and, moreover, knock at my door,
which is nearly opposite a meeting, you would do me a charity, which, as
St Paul saith, is the father of all the virtues. At all events, let me
hear from you soon: I say, at all events, not excepting the gout in your
fingers.' Clarke seems to have complied promptly with this petition, and
before many months their renewed intercourse had momentous consequences.
Keats's fear that the springs of poetry would dry up in him was not
fulfilled, and he kept trying his prentice hand in various modes of
verse. Some of the sonnets recorded to have belonged to the year 1815,
as _Woman, when I behold thee, Happy is England_, may have been written
in London at the close of that year: a number of others, showing a
gradually strengthening touch, belong, we know, to the spring and early
summer of the next. For his brother George to send to his _fiancée_,
Miss Georgiana Wylie, on Valentine's day, Feb. 14, 1816, he wrote the
pleasant set of heptasyllabics beginning 'Hadst thou lived in days of
old.' In the same month was published Leigh Hunt's poem _The Story of
Rimini_, and by this, working together with his rooted enthusiasm for
Spenser, Keats was immediately inspired to begin an attempt at a
chivalrous romance of his own, _Calidore_; which went no farther than an
Induction and some hundred and fifty opening lines.

Cowden Clarke had kept up his acquaintance with Leigh Hunt, and was in
the habit of going up to visit him at the cottage where he was now
living at Hampstead, in the Vale of Health. Some time in the late spring
of 1816 Clarke made known to Hunt first some of Keats's efforts in
poetry and then Keats himself. Both Clarke and Hunt have told the story,
both writing at a considerable, and Clarke at a very long, interval
after the event. In their main substance the two accounts agree, but
both are in some points confused, telescoping together, as memory is apt
to do, circumstances really separated by an interval of months. One firm
fact we have to start with,--that Hunt printed in his paper, the
_Examiner_, for May 5th, 1816, Keats's sonnet, _O Solitude, if I with
thee must dwell_. This was Keats's first appearance in print, and a
decisive circumstance in his life. Clarke, it appears, had taken up the
'Solitude' sonnet and a few other manuscript verses of Keats to submit
to Leigh Hunt for his opinion,[6] and had every reason to be gratified
at the result. Here is his story of what happened.

  I took with me two or three of the poems I had received from Keats. I
  could not but anticipate that Hunt would speak encouragingly, and
  indeed approvingly, of the compositions--written, too, by a youth
  under age; but my partial spirit was not prepared for the unhesitating
  and prompt admiration which broke forth before he had read twenty
  lines of the first poem. Horace Smith happened to be there on the
  occasion, and he was not less demonstrative in his appreciation of
  their merits.... After making numerous and eager inquiries about him
  personally, and with reference to any peculiarities of mind and
  manner, the visit ended in my being requested to bring him over to the
  Vale of Health.

  That was a 'red-letter day' in the young poet's life, and one which
  will never fade with me while memory lasts. The character and
  expression of Keats's features would arrest even the casual passenger
  in the street; and now they were wrought to a tone of animation that I
  could not but watch with interest, knowing what was in store for him
  from the bland encouragement, and Spartan deference in attention,
  with fascinating conversational eloquence, that he was to encounter
  and receive. As we approached the Heath, there was the rising and
  accelerated step, with the gradual subsidence of all talk. The
  interview, which stretched into three 'morning calls,' was the prelude
  to many after-scenes and saunterings about Caen Wood and its
  neighbourhood; for Keats was suddenly made a familiar of the
  household, and was always welcomed.

In connexion with this, take Hunt's own account of the matter, as given
about ten years after the event in his volume, _Lord Byron and his
Contemporaries_:

  To Mr Clarke I was indebted for my acquaintance with him. I shall
  never forget the impression made upon me by the exuberant specimens of
  genuine though young poetry that were laid before me, and the promise
  of which was seconded by the fine fervid countenance of the writer. We
  became intimate on the spot, and I found the young poet's heart as
  warm as his imagination. We read and walked together, and used to
  write verses of an evening on a given subject. No imaginative pleasure
  was left unnoticed by us, or unenjoyed, from the recollections of the
  bards and patriots of old to the luxury of a summer's rain at our
  window or the clicking of the coal in winter-time.

Some inquirers, in interpreting these accounts, have judged that the
personal introduction did not take place in the spring or early summer
at all, but only after Keats's return from his holiday at the end of
September. I think it is quite clear, on the contrary, that Clarke had
taken Keats up to Hampstead by the end of May or some time in June.
Unmistakeable impressions of summer strolls there occur in his poetry of
the next few months. The 'happy fields' where he had been rambling when
he wrote the sonnet to Charles Wells on June the 29th were almost
certainly the fields of Hampstead, and there is no reason to doubt
Hunt's statement that the 'little hill' from which Keats drank the
summer view and air, as told at the opening of his poem _I stood
tiptoe_, was one of the swells of ground towards the Caen wood side of
the Heath. At the same time it would seem that their intercourse in
these first weeks did not extend beyond a few walks and talks, and that
it was not until after Keats's return from his summer holiday that the
acquaintance ripened into the close and delighted intimacy which we find
subsisting by the autumn.

For part of August and September he had been away at Margate, apparently
alone. A couple of rimed epistles addressed during this holiday to his
brother George and to Cowden Clarke breathe just such a heightened joy
of life and happiness of anticipation as would be natural in one who had
lately felt the first glow of new and inspiriting personal sympathies.
To George, besides the epistle, he addressed a pleasant sonnet on the
wonders he has seen, the sea, the sunsets, and the world of poetic
glories and mysteries vaguely evoked by them in his mind. The epistle to
George is dated August: that to Cowden Clarke followed in September. In
it he explains, in a well-conditioned and affectionate spirit of
youthful modesty, why he has hitherto been shy of addressing any of his
own attempts in verse to a friend so familiar with the work of the
masters; and takes occasion, in a heartfelt passage of autobiography, to
declare all he has owed to that friend's guidance and encouragement.

  Thus have I thought; and days on days have flown
  Slowly, or rapidly--unwilling still
  For you to try my dull, unlearned quill.
  Nor should I now, but that I've known you long;
  That you first taught me all the sweets of song:
  The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine;
  What swell'd with pathos, and what right divine:
  Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,
  And float along like birds o'er summer seas;
  Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness,
  Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve's fair slenderness.

  Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly
  Up to its climax and then dying proudly?
  Who found for me the grandeur of the ode,
  Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load?
  Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,
  The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram?
  Show'd me that epic was of all the king,
  Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn's ring?
  You too upheld the veil from Clio's beauty,
  And pointed out the patriot's stern duty;
  The might of Alfred, and the shaft of Tell;
  The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell
  Upon a tyrant's head. Ah! had I never seen,
  Or known your kindness, what might I have been?
  What my enjoyments in my youthful years,
  Bereft of all that now my life endears?
  And can I e'er these benefits forget?
  And can I e'er repay the friendly debt?
  No doubly no;--yet should these rhymings please,
  I shall roll on the grass with two-fold ease:
  For I have long time been my fancy feeding
  With hopes that you would one day think the reading
  Of my rough verses not an hour misspent;
  Should it e'er be so, what a rich content!

Some of these lines are merely feeble and boyish, but some show a fast
ripening, nay an almost fully ripened, critical feeling for the poetry
of the past. The couplet about Spenser's vowels could scarcely be
happier, and the next on Milton anticipates, though without at all
approaching in craftsmanship, the 'Me rather all that bowery loneliness'
of Tennyson's famous alcaic stanzas to the same effect.

Coming back from the seaside about the end of September to take up his
quarters with his brothers in their lodging in the Poultry, Keats was
soon to be indebted to Clarke for another and invaluable literary
stimulus: I mean his first knowledge of Chapman's translation of Homer.
This experience, as every reader knows, was instantly celebrated by him
in a sonnet, classical now almost to triteness, which is his first high
achievement, and one of the masterpieces of our language in this form.
The question of its exact date has been much discussed: needlessly,
seeing that Keats himself signed and dated it in full, when it was
printed in the _Examiner_ for the first of December following, 'Oct^r
1816, JOHN KEATS.' The doubts expressed have been due partly to the
overlooking of this fact and partly to a mistake in Cowden Clarke's
account of the matter written many years later. After quoting Keats's
invitation of October 1815 to come and find him at his lodging in the
Borough, Clarke goes on:--

  This letter having no date but the week's day, and no postmark,
  preceded our first symposium; and a memorable night it was in my
  life's career. A beautiful copy of the folio edition of Chapman's
  translation of _Homer_ had been lent me. It was the property of Mr.
  Alsager, the gentleman who for years had contributed no small share of
  celebrity to the great reputation of the _Times_ newspaper by the
  masterly manner in which he conducted the money-market department of
  that journal....

  Well then, we were put in possession of the _Homer_ of Chapman, and to
  work we went, turning to some of the 'famousest' passages, as we had
  scrappily known them in Pope's version. There was, for instance, that
  perfect scene of the conversation on Troy wall of the old Senators
  with Helen, who is pointing out to them the several Greek Captains;
  with the Senator Antenor's vivid portrait of an orator in Ulysses,
  beginning at the 237th line of the third book:--

    But when the prudent Ithacus did to his counsels rise,
    He stood a little still, and fix'd upon the earth his eyes,
    His sceptre moving neither way, but held it formally,
    Like one that vainly doth affect. Of wrathful quality,
    And frantic (rashly judging), you would have said he was;
    But when out of his ample breast he gave his great voice pass,
    And words that flew about our ears like drifts of winter's snow,
    None thenceforth might contend with him, though naught admired for
      show.

  The shield and helmet of Diomed, with the accompanying simile, in the
  opening of the third book; and the prodigious description of Neptune's
  passage to the Achive ships, in the thirteenth book:--

    The woods and all the great hills near trembled beneath the weight
    Of his immortal-moving feet. Three steps he only took,
    Before he far-off Ægas reach'd, but with the fourth, it shook
    With his dread entry.

  One scene I could not fail to introduce to him--the shipwreck of
  Ulysses, in the fifth book of the _Odysseis_, and I had the reward of
  one of his delighted stares, upon reading the following lines:--

    Then forth he came, his both knees falt'ring, both
    His strong hands hanging down, and all with froth
    His cheeks and nostrils flowing, voice and breath
    Spent to all use, and down he sank to death.
    _The sea had soak'd his heart through_; all his veins
    His toils had rack'd t'a labouring woman's pains.
    Dead-weary was he.

  On an after-occasion I showed him the couplet, in Pope's translation,
  upon the same passage:--

    From mouth and nose the briny torrent ran,
    And _lost in lassitude lay all the man_. (!!!)

  Chapman supplied us with many an after-treat; but it was in the
  teeming wonderment of this his first introduction, that, when I came
  down to breakfast the next morning, I found upon my table a letter
  with no other enclosure than his famous sonnet, _On First Looking into
  Chapman's Homer_. We had parted, as I have already said, at
  day-spring, yet he contrived that I should receive the poem from a
  distance of, may be, two miles by ten o'clock.

The whole of the above is a typical case of what I have called the
telescoping action of memory. Recollections not of one, but of many,
Homer readings are here compressed into a couple of paragraphs. They
will have been readings carried on at intervals through the autumn and
winter of 1816-17: an inspiring addition to the other intellectual gains
and pleasures which fell to Keats's lot during those months. There is no
reason to doubt the exactness of Clarke's account of the first night the
friends spent together over Chapman and its result in the shape of the
sonnet which lay on his table the next morning. His error is in
remembering these circumstances as having happened when he and Keats
first foregathered in London in the autumn of 1815, whereas Keats's
positive evidence above quoted shows that they did not really happen
until a year later, after his return from his summer holiday in 1816.[7]
Before printing the Chapman sonnet, Leigh Hunt had the satisfaction of
hearing his own opinion of it and of some other manuscript poems of
Keats confirmed by good judges. I quote his words for the sake of the
excellent concluding phrase. 'Not long afterwards, having the pleasure
of entertaining at dinner Mr Godwin, Mr Hazlitt, and Mr Basil Montague,
I showed them the verses of my young friend, and they were pronounced to
be as extraordinary as I thought them. One of them was that noble sonnet
on first reading Chapman's _Homer_, which terminates with so energetic a
calmness, and which completely announced the new poet taking
possession.' But by this time Keats had become an established intimate
in the Leigh Hunt household, and was constantly backwards and forwards
between London and the Hampstead cottage.

This intimacy was really the opening of a new chapter both in his
intellectual and social life. At first it was a source of unmixed
encouragement and pleasure, but seeing that it carried with it in the
sequel disadvantages and penalties which gravely affected Keats's
career, it is necessary that we should fix clearly in our mind Hunt's
previous history and the place held by him in the literary and political
life of the time. He was Keats's senior by eleven years: the son of an
eloquent and elegant, self-indulgent and thriftless fashionable
preacher, sprung from a family long settled in Barbadoes, who having
married a lady from Philadelphia had migrated to England and exercised
his vocation in the northern suburbs of London. Brought up at Christ's
Hospital about a dozen years later than Lamb and Coleridge, Leigh Hunt
gained at sixteen a measure of precocious literary reputation with a
volume of juvenile poems which gave evidence of great fluency and, for a
boy, of wide and eager reading. A few years later he came into notice as
a theatrical critic, being then a clerk in the War Office: an occupation
which he abandoned at twenty-four (in 1808) in order to take part in the
conduct of the _Examiner_ newspaper, then just founded by his brother
John Hunt. For nearly five years the brothers Hunt, as manager and
editor of that journal, helped to fight the losing battle of liberalism,
in those days of tense grapple with the Corsican ogre abroad and stiff
re-action and repression at home, with a dexterous brisk audacity and an
unflinching sincerity of conviction. So far they had escaped the usual
penalty of such courage. Several prosecutions directed against them
failed, but at last, late in 1812, they were caught tripping. To go as
far as was safely possible in satire of the follies and vices of the
Prince Regent was a tempting exercise to the reforming spirits of the
time. Provoked by the grovelling excesses of some of the Prince's
flatterers, the _Examiner_ at last broke bounds and denounced him as 'a
violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in disgrace, a
despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man
who had just closed half a century without one single claim on the
gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity.' This attack
followed within a few weeks of another almost as stinging contributed
anonymously by Charles Lamb. Under the circumstances the result of a
prosecution could not be doubtful: and the two Hunts were condemned to a
fine of £500 each and two years imprisonment in separate jails. Leigh
Hunt bore himself in his captivity with cheerful fortitude, suffering
severely in health but flagging little in spirits or industry. He
decorated his apartment in Horsemonger Lane Gaol with a rose-trellis
paper and a ceiling to imitate a summer sky, so that it looked, said
Charles Lamb, like a room in a fairy tale, and spent money which he had
not got in converting its backyard into a garden of shrubs and flowers.

Very early in life Hunt had been received into a family called Kent at
the instance of an elder daughter who greatly admired him. Not long
afterwards he engaged himself to her younger sister, then almost a
child, and married her soon after the _Examiner_ was started. She proved
a prolific, thriftless woman and ill housekeeper, but through all the
rubs and pinches of his after years he was ever an affectionate husband
and father. His wife was allowed to be with him in prison, and there
they received the visits of many friends old and new. Liberal statesmen,
philosophers, and writers, including characters so divers as Bentham and
Byron, Brougham and Hazlitt, James Mill and Miss Edgeworth, Tom Moore
and Wilkie the painter, pressed to offer this victim of political
persecution their sympathy and society. Charles Lamb and his sister were
the most constant of all his visitors. Tom Moore, who both before and
after the sentence on the brothers Hunt managed in his series of verse
skits, _The Twopenny Post Bag_, to go on playing with impunity the game
of Prince-Regent-baiting,--the light-hearted Tom Moore joined in deepest
earnest the chorus of sympathy with the prisoners:--

  Yet go--for thoughts as blessed as the air
  Of Spring or Summer flowers await you there:
  Thoughts such as He, who feasts his courtly crew
  In rich conservatories, _never_ knew;
  Pure self-esteem--the smiles that light within--
  The Zeal, whose circling charities begin
  With the few lov'd ones Heaven has plac'd it near,
  And spread, till all Mankind are in its sphere;
  The Pride, that suffers without vaunt or plea,
  And the fresh Spirit, that can warble free,
  Through prison-bars, its hymn to Liberty!

Among ardent young men who brought their tributes was Cowden Clarke with
a basket of fruit and flowers from his father's garden; and this was
followed up by a weekly offering in the same kind. 'Libertas, the loved
Libertas,' was the name found for Hunt by such fond young spirits and
adopted by Keats.

During his captivity Hunt was allowed the full use of his library, and
his chief reading was in the fifty volumes of the _Parnaso Italiano_. As
a result he acquired and retained for life a really wide and familiar
knowledge of Italian poetry. He continued to edit the _Examiner_ from
prison and occupied himself moreover with three small volumes in verse.
One of these was _The Descent of Liberty, A Mask_, celebrating the
downfall of Napoleon in 1814, and embodying gracefully enough the
Liberal's hope against hope that with that catastrophe there might
return to Europe not only peace but freedom. (We have told already how
Keats at Edmonton tried his boyish hand at a sonnet on the same occasion
and to the same purpose.) Another of his prison tasks was the writing of
his poem, _The Story of Rimini_; a third, the recasting and annotating
of his _Feast of the Poets_, an airily presumptuous trifle in verse
first printed two years before and modelled on the precedent of several
rimed skits of the Caroline age such as Suckling's _Session of the
Poets_ and the Duke of Buckinghamshire's _Election of a Poet Laureate_.
It represented Apollo as convoking the contemporary British poets, or
pretenders to the poetical title, to a session, or rather to a supper.
Some of those who present themselves the god rejects with scorn, others
he cordially welcomes, others he admits with reserve and admonition. In
revising this skit while he was in prison, Hunt modified some of his
earlier verdicts, but in the main he let them stand. Moore and Campbell
fare the best; Southey and Scott are accepted but with reproof;
Coleridge and Wordsworth admonished (but Wordsworth in much more lenient
terms than in the first edition) and dismissed. Hunt's notes are of
still living interest as setting forth, at that pregnant moment of our
literary history, the considered judgments of a kindly and accomplished
critic on his contemporaries. Seen at a distance of a hundred years
they look short-sighted enough, as almost all contemporary judgments
must, and are coloured as a matter of course with party feeling, though
not so grossly as was the habit of the hour. Since Coleridge, Southey
and Wordsworth had been transformed, first by the Terror and then by the
aggressions of Bonaparte, from ardent revolutionary idealists into
vehement partisans of reaction both at home and abroad, the bitterness
of the 'Lost Leader' feeling, common to all liberals, accounts for much
of Hunt's disparagement of them; while besides sharing the prejudice of
his party in general against Scott as a known high Tory and friend to
kings, he had ignorantly and peevishly conceived a special grudge
against that great generous and chivalrous spirit on account of his
lenient handling of Charles II in his _Life of Dryden_. Hunt in his new
notes fully acknowledged the genius, while he condemned the defection
and also what he thought the poetical perversities, of Wordsworth; but
his treatment of Scott, as little more than a mere money-making
manufacturer of pinchbeck northern lays in a sham antique ballad
dialect, is idly flippant and patronizing. The point is of importance in
Keats's history, for hence, as we shall see in the sequel, came probably
a part at least of the peculiar and as it might seem paradoxical rancour
with which the genial Hunt, and Keats as his friend and supposed
follower, were by-and-by to be persecuted in Blackwood.

When Hunt's ordeal was over in the first days of February 1815, he
issued from it a butt for savage and vindictive obloquy to the
reactionary half of the lettered world, but little less than a hero and
martyr to the reforming half. He retained the private friendship of many
of those who had sought him out from public sympathy. Tall, straight,
slender, charmingly courteous and vivacious, with glossy black hair,
bright jet-black eyes, full, relishing nether lip, and 'nose of taste,'
Leigh Hunt was one of the most winning of companions, full of kindly
smiles and jests, of reading, gaiety, and ideas, with an infinity of
pleasant things to say of his own and a beautiful caressing voice to say
them in, yet the most sympathetic and deferential of listeners. To the
misfortune of himself and his friends, he had no notion of even
attempting to balance income and expenditure, and was perfectly
light-hearted in the matter of money obligations, which he shrank
neither from receiving nor conferring,--only circumstances made him
almost invariably a receiver. But men of sterner fibre and better able
to order their affairs have often been much more ready than he was to
sacrifice conviction to advantage, and his friends found more to admire
in his smiling steadfastness under obloquy and persecution than to blame
in his chronic incapacity to pay his way. Hardly anyone had warmer
well-wishers or requited them, so far as the depth of his nature went,
with truer loyalty and kindness. His industry as a writer was incessant,
hardly less than that of Southey himself. The titles he gave to the
several journals he conducted, _The Examiner_, _The Reflector_, _The
Indicator_, define accurately enough his true vocation as a guide to the
pleasures of literature. His manner in criticism has at its best an easy
penetration, and flowing unobtrusive felicity, most remote from those
faults to which De Quincey and even the illustrious Coleridge, with
their more philosophic powers and method, were subject, the faults of
roundaboutness and over-laboured profundity.

[Illustration: PL. II

JAMES HENRY LEIGH HUNT

FROM AN ENGRAVING BY MAYER AFTER J. HAYTER]

The weakness of Leigh Hunt's style is of an opposite kind. 'Matchless,'
according to Lamb's well-known phrase, 'as a fire-side companion,' it
was his misfortune to carry too much of a fire-side or parlour tone, and
sometimes, it must be owned, a very second-rate parlour tone, into
literature. He could not walk by the advice of Polonius, and in aiming
at the familiar was apt, rarely in prose but sadly often in verse, to
slip into an underbred strain of airy and genteel vulgarity, hard to
reconcile with what we are told of his acceptable social qualities in
real life.[8] He was as enthusiastic a student of our sixteenth and
seventeenth century literature as Coleridge or Lamb, and though he had
more appreciation than they of the characteristic excellencies of what
he always persists in calling the 'French school,' the school of
polished artifice and convention which came in after Dryden and swore by
the precepts of Boileau, he was not less bent on seeing it overthrown.
In English poetry his predilection was for the older writers from
Chaucer to Dryden, and above all others for Spenser: in Italian for
Boiardo, Ariosto, Pulci and the later writers of the chivalrous-fanciful
epic style. He insisted that such writers were much better models for
English poets to follow than the French, and fought as hard as anyone
for the return of English poetry from the urbane conventions of the
eighteenth century to the paths of nature and of freedom. But he had his
own conception of the manner in which this return should be effected. He
did not admit that Wordsworth with his rustic simplicities and his
recluse philosophy had solved the problem. 'It was his intention,' he
wrote in prison, 'by the beginning of next year to bring out a piece of
some length ... in which he would attempt to reduce to practice his own
ideas of what is natural in style, and of the various and legitimate
harmony of the English heroic.' The result of this intention was the
_Story of Rimini_, begun before his prosecution and published a year
after his release, in February or March, 1816. 'With the endeavour,' so
he repeated himself in the preface, 'to recur to a freer spirit of
versification, I have joined one of still greater importance,--that of
having a free and idiomatic cast of language.'

We shall have to consider Hunt's effort to revive the old freedom of the
English heroic metre when we come to the study of Keats's first volume,
written much under Hunt's influence. As to his success with his 'ideas
of what is natural in style,' and his free and idiomatic--or as he
elsewhere says 'unaffected, contemporaneous'--cast of language to
supersede the styles alike of Pope and Wordsworth, let us take a sample
of _Rimini_ at its best and worst. Relating the gradual obsession of
Paolo's thoughts by the charm of his sister-in-law,--

  And she became companion of his thought;
  Silence her gentleness before him brought,
  Society her sense, reading her books,
  Music her voice, every sweet thing her looks,
  Which sometimes seemed, when he sat fixed awhile,
  To steal beneath his eyes with upward smile;
  And did he stroll into some lonely place,
  Under the trees, upon the thick soft grass,
  How charming, would he think, to see her here!
  How heightened then, and perfect would appear
  The two divinest things this world has got,
  A lovely woman in a rural spot!

The first few lines are skilfully modulated, and in an ordinary domestic
theme might be palatable enough; but what a couplet, good heavens! for
the last. At the climax, Hunt's version of Dante is an example of
milk-and-water in conditions where milk-and-water is sheer poison:--

  As thus they sat, and felt with leaps of heart
  Their colour change, they came upon the part
  Where fond Genevra, with her flame long nurst,
  Smiled upon Launcelot when he kissed her first:--
  That touch, at last, through every fibre slid;
  And Paulo turned, scarce knowing what he did,
  Only he felt he could no more dissemble,
  And kissed her, mouth to mouth, all in a tremble.

The taste, we see, which guided Hunt so well in appreciating the work of
others could betray him terribly in original composition. The passages
of light narrative in _Rimini_ are often vivacious and pleasant enough,
those of nature description genuinely if not profoundly felt, and
written with an eye on the object: but they are the only tolerable
things in the poem. Hunt's idea of a true poetical style was to avoid
everything strained, stilted, and conventional, and to lighten the
stress of his theme with familiar graces and pleasantries in the manner
of his beloved Ariosto. But he did not realize that while any style,
from that of the _Book of Job_ to that of Wordsworth's _Idiot Boy_, may
become poetical if only there is strength and intensity of feeling
behind it, nothing but the finest social instinct and tradition can
impart the tact for such light conversational graces as he attempted,
and that to treat a theme of high tragic passion in the tone and
vocabulary of a suburban tea-party is intolerable. Contemporaries,
welcoming as a relief any change from the stale conventions and
tarnished glitter of eighteenth century poetic rhythm and diction, and
perhaps sated for the moment with the rush and thrill of new romantic
and exotic sensation they had owed in recent years, first to Scott's
metrical tales of the Border and the Highlands, then to Byron's of
Greece and the Levant,--contemporaries found something fresh and
homefelt in Leigh Hunt's _Rimini_, and sentimental ladies and gentlemen
wept over the sorrows of the hero and heroine as though they had been
their own. No less a person than Byron, to whom the poem was dedicated,
writes to Moore:--'Leigh Hunt's poem is a devilish good one--quaint here
and there, but with the substratum of originality, and with poetry about
it that will stand the test. I do not say this because he has inscribed
it to me.' And to Leigh Hunt himself Byron reports praise of the poem
from Sir Henry Englefield the dilettante, 'a mighty man in the blue
circles, and a very clever man anywhere,' from Hookham Frere 'and all
the arch _literati_,' and says how he had left his own sister and cousin
'in fixed and delighted perusal of it.' Byron's admiration cooled
greatly in the sequel, with or even before the cooling of his regard
for the author. But it is an instructive comment on standards of taste
and their instability that cultivated readers should at any time have
endured to hear the story of Paolo and Francesca--Dante's Paolo and
Francesca--diluted through four cantos in a style like that of the above
quotations. When Keats and Shelley, with their immeasurably finer
poetical gifts and instincts, successively followed Leigh Hunt in the
attempt to add a familiar ease of manner to variety of movement in this
metre, Shelley, it need not be said, was in no danger of falling into
Hunt's faults of triviality and under-breeding: but Keats was only too
apt to be betrayed into them.

Hunt had spent the first months after his release in London, but by the
end of 1815, some time before the publication of _Rimini_, had settled
at Hampstead, where he soon made himself a sort of self-crowned laureate
of the beauties of the place, and continued to vary his critical and
political labours with gossiping complimentary verses to his friends in
the form both of sonnet and epistle. The gravest of the epistles is one
addressed in a spirit of good-hearted loyalty to Byron in that
disastrous April when, after four years spent in the full blaze of
popularity and fashion, he was leaving England under the storm of
obloquy aroused by the scandals attending his separation from his wife.
This is in Hunt's reformed heroic couplet: the rest are in a chirruping
and gossiping anapaestic sing-song which is perhaps the writer's most
congenial vein. Here is a summer picture of Hampstead from a letter to
Tom Moore:--

  And yet how can I touch, and not linger a while,
  On the spot that has haunted my youth like a smile?
  On its fine breathing prospects, its clump-wooded glades,
  Dark pines, and white houses, and long-allied shades,
  With fields going down, where the bard lies and sees
  The hills up above him with roofs in the trees?
  Now too, while the season,--half summer, half spring,--
  Brown elms and green oaks--makes one loiter and sing;
  And the bee's weighty murmur comes by us at noon,
  And the cuckoo repeats his short indolent tune,
  And little white clouds lie about in the sun,
  And the wind's in the west, and hay-making begun?--

and here an autumn night-sketch, from a letter expressing surprise that
the wet weather has not brought a visit from Charles Lamb, that
inveterate lover of walking in the rain:--

  We hadn't much thunder and lightning, I own;
  But the rains might have led you to walk out of town;
  And what made us think your desertion still stranger,
  The roads were so bad, there was really no danger;
  At least where I live; for the nights were so groping,
  The rains made such wet, and the paths are so sloping,
  That few, unemboldened by youth or by drinking,
  Came down without lanthorns,--nor then without shrinking.
  And really, to see the bright spots come and go,
  As the path rose or fell, was a fanciful shew.
  Like fairies they seemed, pitching up from their nooks,
  And twinkling upon us their bright little looks.

Such were Leigh Hunt's antecedents, and such his literary performances
and reputation, when Keats at the age of twenty-one became his intimate.
So far as opinions and public sympathies were concerned, those of Keats
had already, as we have seen, been largely formed in boyhood by
familiarity, under the lead of Cowden Clarke, with Leigh Hunt's writings
in the _Examiner_. Hunt was a confirmed Voltairian and sceptic as to
revealed religion, and supplied its place with a private gospel of
cheerfulness, or system of sentimental optimism, inspired partly by his
own invincibly sunny temperament and partly by the hopeful doctrines of
eighteenth-century philosophy in France. Keats shared the natural
sympathy of generous youth for Hunt's liberal and kind-hearted view of
things, and he had a mind naturally unapt for dogma: ready to entertain
and appreciate any set of ideas according as his imagination recognized
their beauty or power, he could never wed himself to any as representing
ultimate truth. In matters of poetic feeling and fancy the two men had
up to a certain point not a little in common. Like Hunt, Keats at this
time was given to 'luxuriating' too effusively and fondly over the
'deliciousness' of whatever he liked in art, books, or nature. To the
every-day pleasures of summer and the English fields Hunt brought in a
lower degree the same alertness of perception and acuteness of enjoyment
which in Keats were intense beyond parallel. In his lighter and
shallower way Hunt also truly felt with Keats the perennial charm and
vitality of classic fable, and was scholar enough to produce about this
time some agreeable translations of the Sicilian pastorals, and some,
less adequate, of Homer. But behind such pleasant faculties in Hunt
nothing deeper or more potent lay hidden. Whereas with Keats, as time
went on, delighted sensation became more and more surely and
instantaneously transmuted and spiritualized into imaginative emotion;
his words and cadences came every day from deeper sources within him and
more fully charged with the power of far-reaching and symbolic
suggestion. Hence, as this profound and passionate young genius grew, he
could not but be aware of what was shallow in the talent of his senior
and cloying and distasteful in his ever-voluble geniality. But for many
months the harmony of their relations was complete.

The 'little cottage' in the Vale of Health must have been fairly
overcrowded, one would suppose, with Hunt's fast-growing family of young
children, but a bed was made up for Keats on a sofa, 'in a parlour no
bigger than an old mansion's closet,' says Hunt, which nevertheless
served him for a library and had prints after Stothard hung on the walls
and casts of the heads of poets and heroes crowning the bookshelves.
Here the young poet was made always welcome. The sonnet beginning 'Keen,
fitful gusts are whispering here and there' records a night of October
or November 1816, when, instead of staying to sleep, he preferred to
walk home under the stars, his head full of talk about Petrarch and the
youth of Milton, to the city lodgings where he lived with his brothers
the life affectionately described in that other pleasant sonnet written
on Tom's birthday, November 18, beginning 'Small, busy flames play
through the fresh-laid coals.' The well-known fifty lines at the end of
_Sleep and Poetry_, a poem on which Keats put forth the best of his
half-fledged strength this winter, give the fullest and most engaging
account of the pleasure and inspiration he drew from Hunt's
hospitality:--

                                 The chimes
  Of friendly voices had just given place
  To as sweet a silence, when I 'gan retrace
  The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease.
  It was a poet's house who keeps the keys
  Of pleasure's temple. Round about were hung
  The glorious features of the bards who sung
  In other ages--cold and sacred busts
  Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts
  To clear Futurity his darling fame!
  Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim
  At swelling apples with a frisky leap
  And reaching fingers, 'mid a luscious heap
  Of vine-leaves. Then there rose to view a fane
  Of liny marble, and thereto a train
  Of nymphs approaching fairly o'er the sward:
  One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward
  The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet
  Bending their graceful figures till they meet
  Over the trippings of a little child:
  And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild
  Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping.
  See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping
  Cherishingly Diana's timorous limbs;--
  A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims
  At the bath's edge, and keeps a gentle motion
  With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean
  Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothness o'er
  Its rocky marge, and balances once more
  The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam
  Feel all about their undulating home...
  Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green,
  Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean
  His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they!
  For over them was seen a free display
  Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone
  The face of Poesy: from off her throne
  She overlook'd things that I scarce could tell.

It is easy from the above and from some of Keats's later work to guess
at most of the prints which had caught his attention on Hunt's walls and
in his portfolios and worked on his imagination afterwards:--Poussin's
'Empire of Flora' for certain: several, probably, of his various
'Bacchanals,' with the god and his leopard-drawn car, and groups of
nymphs dancing with fauns or strewn upon the foreground to right or
left: the same artist's 'Venus and Adonis': Stothard's 'Bathers' and
'Vintage,' his small print of Petrarch as a youth first meeting Laura
and her friend; Raphael's 'Poetry' from the Vatican; and so forth. These
things are not without importance in the study of Keats, for he was
quicker and more apt than any of our other poets to draw inspiration
from works of art,--prints, pictures, or marbles,--that came under his
notice, and it is not for nothing that he alludes in this same poem to

                          --the pleasant flow
  Of words on opening a portfolio.

A whole treatise might be written on matters which I shall have to
mention briefly or not at all,--how such and such a descriptive phrase
in Keats has been suggested by this or that figure in a picture; how
pictures by or prints after old masters have been partly responsible for
his vision alike of the Indian maiden and the blind Orion; what various
originals, paintings or antiques or both, we can recognize as blending
themselves into his evocation of the triumph of Bacchus or his creation
of the Grecian Urn.

On December the 1st, 1816, Hunt, as has been said, did Keats the new
service of printing the Chapman sonnet as a specimen of his work in an
essay in the _Examiner_ on 'Young Poets,' in which the names of Shelley
and Reynolds were bracketed with his as poetical beginners of high
promise. With reference to the custom mentioned by Hunt of Keats and
himself sitting down of an evening to write verses on a given subject,
Cowden Clarke pleasantly describes one such occasion on December 30 of
the same year, when the chosen theme was _The Grasshopper and the
Cricket_:--'The event of the after scrutiny was one of many such
occurrences which have riveted the memory of Leigh Hunt in my
affectionate regard and admiration for unaffected generosity and
perfectly unpretentious encouragement. His sincere look of pleasure at
the first line:--

  The poetry of earth is never dead.

"Such a prosperous opening!" he said; and when he came to the tenth and
eleventh lines:--

  On a lone winter morning, when the frost
  Hath wrought a silence--

"Ah that's perfect! Bravo Keats!" And then he went on in a dilatation on
the dumbness of Nature during the season's suspension and torpidity.'
The affectionate enthusiasm of the younger and the older man (himself,
be it remembered, little over thirty) for one another's company and
verses sometimes took forms which to the mind of the younger and wiser
of the two soon came to seem ridiculous. One day in early spring (1817)
the whim seized them over their wine to crown themselves 'after the
manner of the elder bards.' Keats crowned Hunt with a wreath of ivy,
Hunt crowned Keats with a wreath of laurel, and each while sitting so
adorned wrote a pair of sonnets expressive of his feelings. While they
were in the act of composition, it seems, three lady callers came
in--conceivably the three Misses Reynolds, of whom we shall hear more
anon, Jane, afterwards Mrs Thomas Hood, Marianne, and their young sister
Charlotte. When visitors were announced Hunt took off his wreath and
suggested that Keats should do the same: he, however, 'in his
enthusiastic way, declared he would not take off his crown for any human
being,' and accordingly wore it as long as the visit lasted.[9] Here
are Hunt's pair of sonnets, which are about as good as any he ever
wrote, and which he not long afterwards printed:--

  A crown of ivy! I submit my head
    To the young hand that gives it,--young, 'tis true,
    But with a right, for 'tis a poet's too.
  How pleasant the leaves feel! and how they spread
  With their broad angles, like a nodding shed
    Over both eyes! and how complete and new,
    As on my hand I lean, to feel them strew
  My sense with freshness,--Fancy's rustling bed!
  Tress-tossing girls, with smell of flowers and grapes
    Come dancing by, and downward piping cheeks,
      And up-thrown cymbals, and Silenus old
  Lumpishly borne, and many trampling shapes,--
    And lastly, with his bright eyes on her bent,
      Bacchus,--whose bride has of his hand fast hold.

  It is a lofty feeling, yet a kind,
    Thus to be topped with leaves;--to have a sense
    Of honour-shaded thought,--an influence
  As from great Nature's fingers, and be twined
  With her old, sacred, verdurous ivy-bind,
    As though she hallowed with that sylvan fence
    A head that bows to her benevolence,
  Midst pomp of fancied trumpets in the wind.
  'Tis what's within us crowned. And kind and great
    Are all the conquering wishes it inspires,--
      Love of things lasting, love of the tall woods,
  Love of love's self, and ardour for a state
    Of natural good befitting such desires,
      Towns without gain, and haunted solitudes.

Keats had the good sense not to print his efforts of the day; they are
of slight account poetically, but have a real biographical interest:--

    ON RECEIVING A LAUREL CROWN FROM LEIGH HUNT

  Minutes are flying swiftly, and as yet
    Nothing unearthly has enticed my brain
    Into a delphic labyrinth--I would fain
  Catch an immortal thought to pay the debt
  I owe to the kind poet who has set
    Upon my ambitious head a glorious gain.
    Two bending laurel sprigs--'tis nearly pain
  To be conscious of such a coronet.
  Still time is fleeting, and no dream arises
    Gorgeous as I would have it--only I see
  A trampling down of what the world most prizes,
    Turbans and crowns and blank regality;
  And then I run into most wild surmises
    Of all the many glories that may be.


    TO THE LADIES WHO SAW ME CROWNED

  What is there in the universal earth
    More lovely than a wreath from the bay tree?
    Haply a halo round the moon--a glee
  Circling from three sweet pair of lips in mirth;
  And haply you will say the dewy birth
    Of morning roses--ripplings tenderly
    Spread by the halcyon's breast upon the sea--
  But these comparisons are nothing worth.
  Then there is nothing in the world so fair?
    The silvery tears of April? Youth of May?
      Or June that breathes out life for butterflies?
  No, none of these can from my favourite bear
    Away the palm--yet shall it ever pay
      Due reverence to your most sovereign eyes.

Here we have expressed in the first sonnet the same mood as in some of
the holiday rimes of the previous summer, the mood of ardent expectancy
for an inspiration that declines (and no wonder considering the
circumstances) to come. It was natural that the call for an impromptu
should bring up phrases already lying formed or half formed in Keats's
mind, and the sestet of this sonnet is interesting as containing in its
first four lines the germs of the well-known passage at the beginning of
the third book of _Endymion_,--

  There are who lord it o'er their fellow-men
  With most prevailing tinsel--

and in its fifth a repetition of the 'wild surmise' phrase of the
Chapman sonnet. The second sonnet has a happy line or two in its list of
delights, and its opening is noticeable as repeating the interrogative
formula of the opening lines of _Sleep and Poetry_, Keats's chief
venture in verse this winter.

Very soon after the date of this scene of intercoronation (the word is
Hunt's, used on a different occasion) Keats became heartily ashamed of
it, and expressed his penitence in a strain of ranting verse (his own
name for compositions in this vein) under the form of a hymn or palinode
to Apollo:--

  God of the golden bow,
    And of the golden lyre,
  And of the golden hair,
    And of the golden fire,
      Charioteer
      Of the patient year,
    Where--where slept thine ire,
  When like a blank idiot I put on thy wreath,
    Thy laurel, thy glory,
    The light of thy story,
  Or was I a worm--too low crawling, for death?
    O Delphic Apollo!

And so forth: the same half-amused spirit of penitence is expressed in a
letter of a few weeks later to his brother George: and later still he
came to look back, with a smile of manly self-derision, on those days as
a time when he had been content to play the part of 'A pet-lamb in a
sentimental farce.'


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Another account says Mitchell.

  [2] In _The Asclepiad_, April 1884.

  [3] Houghton MSS.

  [4] Le Grand: _Fabliaux ou Contes, 1781_. G. L. Way: _Fabliaux or
    Tales_, London, 1800; 2nd ed. 1815. See Appendix I.

  [5] This note-book is in the collection bequeathed by the late Sir
    Charles Dilke to the public library at Hampstead.

  [6] In a review of Keats's first book written the next year
    (_Examiner_, July 9, 1817) Hunt says that when he printed the
    'Solitude' sonnet he knew no more of Keats than of any other
    anonymous correspondent: but this probably only means that he had not
    yet met Keats personally.

  [7] Putting day-break in early October at a little before six, there
    would have been fully time enough for Keats to walk to the Poultry,
    composing as he went, and to commit his draft to paper and send it to
    Clerkenwell by ten o'clock. The longer walk to and from the Borough,
    had the date been a year earlier, would have made the feat more
    difficult. Moreover the feat itself becomes less of a miracle when we
    recognize it as performed not at the end of the poet's twentieth year
    but at the end of his twenty first. But in view of Keats's own
    explicit dating of the piece, the point seems to need no labouring:
    or else it might be pointed out that if Clarke had really introduced
    him to Chapman in October 1815 Chapman would assuredly not have been
    left out of the list of masters whom he quotes as having known
    through Clarke in his epistle of the following August quoted above
    (pp. 37, 38).

  [8] Both Byron and Barry Cornwall have expressed their sense of
    contrast between certain vulgarities of Hunt's diction and his
    personal good breeding. Byron before their quarrel declared
    emphatically that he was 'not a vulgar man'; and Barry Cornwall,
    admitting that he 'indulged himself occasionally in pet words, some
    of which struck me as almost approaching to the vulgar,' goes on to
    say that 'he was essentially a gentleman in conduct, in demeanour, in
    manner, in his consideration for others,' and to praise him for his
    'great fund of positive active kindness,' his freedom from all
    irritable vanity, his pleasure and liberality in praising (Bryan
    Walter Procter, _An Autobiographical Fragment_, 1877, pp. 197-200).

  [9] This reconstruction of the scene is founded on a comparison of
    the sonnets themselves with Woodhouse's note on Keats's subsequent
    palinode, _A Hymn to Apollo_. Woodhouse says the friends were both
    crowned with laurel, but it seems more likely that he should have
    made this mistake than that a similar performance should have been
    twice repeated (Houghton MSS.).



CHAPTER III

WINTER 1816-1817: HAYDON: OTHER NEW FRIENDSHIPS: THE DIE CAST FOR POETRY

  Haydon and the Elgin marbles--Haydon as painter and writer--Vanity,
  pugnacity, and piety--Haydon on Leigh Hunt--Keats and Haydon meet--An
  enthusiastic friendship--Keats and the Elgin marbles--Sonnets and
  protestations--Hazlitt and Lamb--Friendship of Hunt and Shelley--Lamb
  and Hazlitt on Shelley--Haydon and Shelley: a battle royal--Keats and
  Shelley--A cool relation--John Hamilton Reynolds--His devotion to
  Keats--The Reynolds sisters--James Rice--Charles Wells--William
  Haslam--Joseph Severn--Keats judged by his circle--Described by
  Severn--His range of sympathies--His poetic ambition--The die is
  cast--First volume goes to press.


So much for the relations of Keats with Hunt himself in these first six
months of their intimacy. Next of the other intimacies which he formed
with friends to whom Hunt introduced him. One of the first of these, and
for a while the most stimulating and engrossing, was with the painter
Haydon. This remarkable man, now just thirty, had lately been victorious
in one of the two great objects of his ambition, and had achieved a
temporary semblance of victory in the other. For the last eight years he
had fought and laboured to win national recognition for the deserts of
Lord Elgin in his great work of salvage--for such under the conditions
of the time it was--in bringing away the remains of the Parthenon
sculptures from Athens. By dint of sheer justice of conviction and power
of fight, and then only when he had been reinforced in the campaign by
foreigners of indisputable authority like the archaeologist Visconti and
the sculptor Canova, he had succeeded in getting the pre-eminence of
these marbles among all works of the sculptor's art acknowledged, and
their acquisition for the nation secured, in the teeth of powerful and
bitterly hostile cliques. His opponents included both the
sentimentalists who took their cue from Byron's _Curse of Minerva_ in
shrieking at Elgin as a vandal, and the dilettanti who, blinded to the
true Greek touch by familiarity with smoothed and pumiced Roman copies,
had declared the Parthenon sculptures to be works of the age of Hadrian.

Haydon's victory over these antagonists is his chief title, and a title
both sound and strong, to the regard of posterity. His other and
life-long, half insane endeavour was to persuade the world to take him
at his own estimate, as the man chosen by Providence to add the crown of
heroic painting to the other glories of his country. His high-flaming
energy and industry, his eloquence, vehemence, and social gifts, the
clamour of his indomitable self-assertion and of his ceaseless conflict
with the academic powers, even his unabashed claims for pecuniary
support on friends, patrons, and society at large, had won for him much
convinced or half convinced attention and encouragement, both in the
world of art and letters and in that of dilettantism and fashion. His
first and second great pictures, 'Dentatus' and 'Macbeth,' had been
dubiously received; his third, the 'Judgment of Solomon,' with
acclamation. This had been finished after his victory in the matter of
the Elgin marbles. He was now busy on one larger and more ambitious than
all, 'Christ's Entry into Jerusalem,' in which it was his purpose to
include among the crowd of lookers-on portraits of many famous men both
historical and contemporary. While as usual sunk deep in debt, he was
perfectly confident of glory. Vain confidence--for he was in truth a man
whom nature had endowed, as if maliciously, with one part of the gifts
of genius and not the other. Its energy and voluntary power he possessed
completely, and no man has ever lived at a more genuinely exalted pitch
of feeling and aspiration. 'Never,' wrote he about this time, 'have I
had such irresistible and perpetual urgings of future greatness. I have
been like a man with air-balloons under his armpits, and ether in his
soul. While I was painting, walking, or thinking, beaming flashes of
energy followed and impressed me.... They came over me, and shot across
me, and shook me, till I lifted up my heart and thanked God.' But for
all his sensations and conviction of power, the other half of genius,
the half which resides not in energy and will, but in faculties which it
is the business of energy and will to apply, was denied to Haydon. Its
vision and originality, its gift of 'heavenly alchemy' for transmuting
and new-creating the materials offered it by experience, its sovereign
inability to see with any eyes or create to any pattern but its own,
were not in him. Except for a stray note here and there, an occasional
bold conception, a trick of colour or craftsmanship not too obviously
caught from greater men, the pictures with which he exultingly laid
siege to immortality belong, as posterity has justly felt, to the
kingdom not of true great art but of imitative pictorial posturing and
empty pictorial bombast.

As a draughtsman especially, Haydon's touch is surprisingly loose,
empty, and inexpressive. Even in drawing from the Elgin marbles, as he
did with passionate industry, covering reams, he fails almost wholly to
render the qualities which he so ardently perceived, and loses every
distinction and every subtlety of the original.[1] Infinitely better is
his account of them in words: for in truth Haydon's chief intellectual
power was as an observer, and his best instrument the pen. Readers of
his journals and correspondence know how vividly and tellingly he can
relate an experience or touch off a character. In this gift of striking
out a human portrait in words he stood second in his age, if second, to
Hazlitt alone, and in our later literature there has been no one to beat
him except Carlyle. But passion and pugnacity, vanity and the spirit of
self-exaltation, at the same time as they intensify vision, are bound to
discolour and distort it; and the reader must always bear in mind that
Haydon's pen portraits of his contemporaries are apt to be not less
untrustworthy than they are unforgettable. Moreover in this, the
literary, form of expression also, where he aims higher, leaving
description and trying to become imaginative and impressive, we find
only the same self-satisfied void turgidity, and proof of spiritual
hollowness disguised by temperamental fervour, as in his paintings.

But it was the gifts and faculties which Haydon possessed, and not those
he lacked, it was the ardour and enthusiasm of his character, and not
his essential commonness of gift and faculty, that impressed his
associates as they impressed himself. Sturdy, loud-voiced, eloquent,
high of colour, with a bald perpendicular forehead surmounting a set of
squarely compressed, pugnacious features,--eyes, lips and jaw all
prominent and aggressive together,--he was a dominating, and yet a
welcome, presence in some of the choicest circles of his day. Wordsworth
and Wordsworth's firm ally, the painter-baronet Sir George Beaumont,
Hazlitt, Horace Smith, Charles Lamb, Coleridge, Walter Scott, Mary
Mitford, were among his friends. Some of them, like Wordsworth, held by
him always, while his imperious and importunate egotism wore out others
after a while. He was justly proud of his industry and strength of
purpose: proud also of his religious faith and piety, and in the habit
of thanking his maker effusively in set terms for special acts of favour
and protection, for this or that happy inspiration in a picture, for
deliverance from 'pecuniary emergencies,' and the like. 'I always rose
up from my knees,' he says strikingly in a letter to Keats, 'with a
refreshed fury, an iron-clenched firmness, a crystal piety of feeling
that sent me streaming on with a repulsive power against the troubles of
life.' And he was prone to hold himself up as a model to his friends in
both particulars, lecturing them loftily on faith and conduct while
he was living without scruple on their bounty.

[Illustration: PL. III

BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON

FROM AN ENGRAVING BY THOMSON AFTER HAYDON]

In October 1816, the first month of Keats's intimacy with Hunt, Haydon
also made a short stay at Hampstead. He and Hunt were already
acquainted, and Hunt had published in the _Examiner_ the very able,
cogent and pungent letter with which Haydon a few months before had
clenched the Elgin marble controversy and practically brought it to an
end. Hunt had congratulated Haydon in a sonnet on the occasion, closing
with a gentle hint that, fine as such a victory was, he was himself
devoted to a mission finer still, as

  One of the spirits chosen by heaven to turn
  The sunny side of things to human eyes.

Their intercourse was now warmly resumed, though never without latent
risk of antagonism and discord. The following letter of Haydon to
Wilkie, more just and temperate than usual, is good for filling in our
picture both of Hunt and of Haydon himself, as well as for adding
another to the number of bewildering contemporary estimates of _Rimini_.

    27 October, 1816.

  I have been at Hampstead this fortnight for my eyes, and shall return
  with my body much stronger for application. The greater part of my
  time has been spent in Leigh Hunt's society, who is certainly one of
  the most delightful companions. Full of poetry and art, and amiable
  humour, we argue always with full hearts on everything but religion
  and Buonaparte, and we have resolved never to talk of these,
  particularly as I have been recently examining Voltaire's opinions
  concerning Christianity, and turmoiling my head to ascertain fully my
  right to put him into my picture!

  Though Leigh Hunt is not deep in knowledge, moral, metaphysical, or
  classical, yet he is intense in feeling, and has an intellect for ever
  on the alert. He is like one of those instruments on three legs,
  which, throw it how you will, always pitches on two, and has a spike
  sticking for ever up and ever ready for you. He 'sets' at a subject
  with a scent like a pointer. He is a remarkable man, and created a
  sensation by his independence, his courage, his disinterestedness in
  public matters, and by the truth, acuteness, and taste of his dramatic
  criticisms he raised the rank of newspapers, and gave by his example
  a literary feeling to the weekly ones more especially.

  As a poet, I think him full of the genuine feeling. His third canto in
  _Rimini_ is equal to anything in any language of that sweet sort.
  Perhaps in his wishing to avoid the monotony of the Pope school, he
  may have shot into the other extreme, and his invention of obscure
  words to express obscure feelings borders sometimes on affectation.
  But these are trifles compared with the beauty of the poem, the
  intense painting of the scenery, and the deep burning in of the
  passion which trembles in every line. Thus far as a critic, an editor,
  and a poet. As a man, I know none with such an affectionate heart, if
  never opposed in his opinions. He has defects of course: one of his
  great defects is getting inferior people about him to listen, too fond
  of shining at any expense in society, and a love of approbation from
  the darling sex bordering on weakness; though to women he is
  delightfully pleasant, yet they seem more to dandle him as a delicate
  plant. I don't know if they do not put a confidence in him which to me
  would be mortifying.

  He is a man of sensibility tinged with morbidity, and of such
  sensitive organisation of body that the plant is not more alive to
  touch than he. I remember once, walking in a field, we came to a muddy
  place concealed by grass. The moment Hunt touched it, he shrank back,
  saying, 'It's muddy!' as if he meaned that it was full of adders....
  He is a composition, as we all are, of defects and delightful
  qualities, indolently averse to worldly exertion, because it harasses
  the musings of his fancy, existing only by the common duties of life,
  yet ignorant of them, and often suffering from their neglect.

A few days later, on October 31, we find Keats writing to Cowden Clarke
of his pleasure at 'the thought of seeing so soon this glorious Haydon
and all his creations.' The introduction was arranged to take place at
Leigh Hunt's cottage, where they met for dinner. Haydon, the sublime
egoist, could be rapturously sympathetic and genuinely kind to those who
took him at his own valuation, and there was much to attract the spirits
of eager youth about him as a leader. Keats and he were mutually
delighted at first sight: each struck fire from the other, and they
quickly became close friends and comrades. After an evening of high talk
at the beginning of their acquaintance, on the 19th of November, 1816,
the young poet wrote to Haydon as follows, joining his name with those
of Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt:--

  Last evening wrought me up, and I cannot forbear sending you the
  following:--

    Great spirits now on earth are sojourning:
      He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake,
      Who on Helvellyn's summit, wide awake,
    Catches his freshness from Archangel's wing:
    He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
      The social smile, the chain for Freedom's sake,
      And lo! whose steadfastness would never take
    A meaner sound than Raphael's whispering.
    And other spirits there are standing apart
      Upon the forehead of the age to come;
    These, these will give the world another heart,
      And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
    Of mighty workings in some distant mart?
      Listen awhile, ye nations, and be dumb.

Haydon was at no time of his life unused to compliments of this kind.
About the same time as Keats another young member of Hunt's circle, John
Hamilton Reynolds, also wrote him a sonnet of eager sympathy and
admiration; and the three addressed to him some years later by
Wordsworth are well known. In his reply to Keats he proposed to hand on
the above piece to Wordsworth--a proposal which 'puts me,' answers
Keats, 'out of breath--you know with what reverence I would send my
well-wishes to him.' Haydon suggested moreover the needless, and as it
seems to me regrettable, mutilation of the sonnet by leaving out the
words after 'workings' in the last line but one. The poet, however,
accepted the suggestion, and his editors have respected his decision.

Some time after the turn of the year we find Keats presented with a copy
of Goldsmith's _Greek History_ 'from his ardent friend, B. R. Haydon.'
All the winter and early spring the two met frequently, sometimes at
Haydon's studio in Great Marlborough Street, sometimes in the rooms of
the Keats brothers in the Poultry or in those of their common
acquaintance, and discussed with passionate eagerness most things in
heaven and earth, and especially poetry and painting. 'I have enjoyed
Shakespeare,' declares Haydon, 'with John Keats more than with any other
human being.' Both he and Keats's other painter friend, Joseph Severn,
have testified that Keats had a fine natural sense for the excellencies
of painting and sculpture. Both loved to take him to the British Museum
and expatiate to him on the glories of the antique; and it would seem
that through Haydon he must have had access also to the collection of
one at least of the great dilettanti noblemen of the day. After a first
visit to the newly acquired Parthenon marbles with Haydon at the
beginning of March 1817, Keats tried to embody his impressions in a
couple of sonnets, which Hunt promptly printed in the _Examiner_. It is
characteristic of his unfailing sincerity with his art and with himself
that he allows himself to break into no stock raptures, but strives
faithfully to get into words the confused sensations of spiritual
infirmity and awe that have overpowered him:--

  My spirit is too weak--mortality
    Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep.
    And each imagin'd pinnacle and steep
  Of godlike hardship, tells me I must die
  Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky.
    Yet 'tis a gentle luxury to weep
    That I have not the cloudy winds to keep,
  Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye.
  Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
    Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
  So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
    That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
  Wasting of old Time--with a billowy main--
    A sun--a shadow of a magnitude.

He sends this with a covering sonnet to Haydon asking pardon for its
immaturity and justly praising the part played by Haydon in forcing the
acceptance of the marbles upon the nation:--

  Haydon! forgive me that I cannot speak
    Definitely on these mighty things;
    Forgive me that I have not Eagle's wings--
  That what I want I know not where to seek;
  And think that I would not be over meek
    In rolling out upfollow'd thunderings,
    Even to the steep of Heliconian springs,
  Were I of ample strength for such a freak--
  Think too, that all those numbers should be thine;
    Whose else? In this who touch thy vesture's hem?
  For when men star'd at what was most divine
    With browless idiotism--o'erwise phlegm--
  Thou hadst beheld the Hesperian shine
    Of their star in the East, and gone to worship them.

Haydon's acknowledgment is of course enthusiastic, but betrays his
unfortunate gift for fustian in the following precious expansion of
Keats's image of the sick eagle:--

  Many thanks, my dear fellow, for your two noble sonnets. I know not a
  finer image than the comparison of a poet unable to express his high
  feelings to a sick eagle looking at the sky, where he must have
  remembered his former towerings amid the blaze of dazzling sunbeams,
  in the pure expanse of glittering clouds; now and then passing angels,
  on heavenly errands, lying at the will of the wind with moveless
  wings, or pitching downward with a fiery rush, eager and intent on
  objects of their seeking....

In Haydon's journal about the same date there is an entry which reads
with ironical pathos in the light of after events:--'Keats is a man
after my own heart. He sympathises with me, and comprehends me. We saw
through each other, and I hope are friends for ever. I only know that,
if I sell my picture, Keats shall never want till another is done, that
he may have leisure for his effusions: in short he shall never want all
his life.' To Keats himself, more hyperbolically still, and in terms
still more suited to draw the pitying smile of the ironic gods, Haydon
writes a little later:--

  Consider this letter a sacred secret.--Often have I sat by my fire
  after a day's effort, as the dusk approached and a gauzy veil seemed
  dimming all things--and mused on what I had done, and with a burning
  glow on what I would do till filled with fury I have seen the faces of
  the mighty dead crowd into my room, and I have sunk down and prayed
  the great Spirit that I might be worthy to accompany these immortal
  beings in their immortal glories, and then I have seen each smile as
  it passes over me, and each shake his hand in awful encouragement. My
  dear Keats, the Friends who surrounded me were sensible to what talent
  I had,--but no one reflected my enthusiasm with that burning ripeness
  of soul, my heart yearned for sympathy,--believe me from my soul, in
  you I have found one,--you add fire, when I am exhausted, and excite
  fury afresh--I offer my heart and intellect and experience--at first I
  feared your ardor might lead you to disregard the accumulated wisdom
  of ages in moral points--but the feelings put forth lately have
  delighted my soul. God bless you! Let our hearts be buried on each
  other.

Familiar visitors at this time of Haydon in the Marlborough Street
studio and of Hunt in the Hampstead cottage were two men of finer gift
than either, William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. With both of these
seniors (Lamb was forty-one and Hazlitt thirty-eight) Keats now became
acquainted without becoming intimate. Unluckily neither of them has left
any but the slightest personal impression of the young poet, whose
modesty probably kept him somewhat in the background when they were by.
Haydon used to complain that it was only after Keats's death that he
could get Hazlitt to acknowledge his genius; but Lamb, as we shall see,
with his unerring critical touch, paid to Keats's best work while he was
still living a tribute as splendid as it was just. Keats on his part,
after the publication of Hazlitt's lectures on the characters of
Shakespeare in 1817, reckoned his 'depth of taste' one of the things
most to rejoice at in his age, and was a diligent attendant at his next
course on the English poets. But he never frequented, presumably for
lack of invitation, those Wednesday and Thursday evening parties at the
Lambs of which Talfourd and B. W. Procter have left us such vivid
pictures; and when he met some of the same company at the Novello's, the
friends of his friend Cowden Clarke, he enjoyed it, as will appear
later, less than one would have hoped. He has left no personal
impression of Hazlitt, and of Lamb only the slightest and most casual.
Fortunately we know them both so well from other sources that we can
almost see and hear them: Hazlitt with his unkempt black hair and
restless grey eyes, lean, slouching, splenetic, an Ishmaelite full of
mistrust and suspicion, his habitual action of the hand within the
waistcoat apt in his scowling moments to suggest a hidden dagger; but
capable withal, in company where he felt secure, of throwing into his
talk much the same fine mixture as distinguishes his writing of
impetuous fullness and variety with incisive point and critical
lucidity: Lamb noticeable in contrast by his neat, sombrely clad small
figure on its spindle legs and his handsome romantic head; by his
hurried, stammering utterance and too often, alas! his vinous flush and
step almost as titubant as his tongue; but most of all by that airy
genius of insight and caprice, of deep tenderness and freakish wisdom,
quick to break from him in sudden, illuminating phrases at any moment
and in any manner save the expected.

Yet another acquaintance brought about by Hunt in these days was that
between Keats and Shelley, who was Keats's senior by only three years
and with whom Hunt himself was now first becoming intimate. When Hunt
was sentenced for sedition four years earlier, Shelley, then barely
twenty, had been eager to befriend him and had sent him an offer of
money help; which for once, not being then in immediate need, Hunt had
honourably declined. Since then they had held only slight communication;
but when Hunt included Shelley on the strength of his poem _Alastor_,
among the young poets praised in his _Examiner_ essay (December 1,
1816), a glowing correspondence immediately followed, and a few days
later Shelley came up from Bath to stay at the Hampstead cottage. The
result of a week's visit was an immediate intimacy and enthusiastic
mutual regard, with a prompt determination on Shelley's part to rescue
Hunt from the slough of debt (something like £1400) into which during
and since his imprisonment he had cheerfully muddled himself.

It was the eve of the most harrowing crisis in Shelley's life, when his
principle of love a law to itself entailed in action so dire a
consequence, and his obedience to his own morality brought him into such
harsh collision with the world's. First came the news of the suicide of
his deserted wife Harriet (December 14) and three months later the
sentence of Lord Eldon which deprived him of the custody of his and
Harriet's children. On the day of the first tragic news he writes to
Mary Godwin, whom he had left at Bath, 'Leigh Hunt has been with me all
day, and his delicate and tender attentions to me, his kind speeches of
you, have sustained me against the weight of horror of this event.' In
the interval between the shock of Harriet's death and that of the
judgment sequestering his children Shelley was a frequent guest in the
Vale of Health, sometimes alone and sometimes with Mary, now legally his
wife. Neither in these first days nor later could Hunt persuade his old
intimates Hazlitt and Lamb to take kindly to his new friend Shelley
either as man or poet. Lamb, who seems only to have seen him once, said
after his death, 'his voice was the most obnoxious squeak I ever was
tormented with'; of his poetry, that it was 'thin sown with profit or
delight'; and of his 'theories and nostrums,' that 'they are oracular
enough, but I either comprehend 'em not, or there is miching malice and
mischief in 'em.' Hazlitt, opening the most studied of his several
attacks on Shelley's poetry and doctrine, gives one of his vivid
portraits, saying 'he has a fire in his eye, a fever in his blood, a
maggot in his brain, a hectic flutter in his speech.... He is
sanguine-complexioned, and shrill-voiced.... His bending, flexible form
appears to take no strong hold of things, does not grapple with the
world about him, but flows from it like a river.' Still less was a good
understanding possible between Shelley and Haydon, who met him more than
once in these early days at the Vale of Health. He tells how, on the
evening of their first meeting, Shelley, looking hectically frail and
girlish, opened the conversation at dinner with the words, 'as to that
detestable religion, the Christian,'--and how he, Haydon, a man at all
times stoutly and vociferously orthodox, waited till the meal was over
and then, 'like a stag at bay and resolved to gore without mercy,'
struck his hardest on behalf of the established faith, while Hunt in his
airily complacent way kept skirmishing in on Shelley's side, until the
contention grew hot and stormy. The heat and noise, Haydon owns, were
chiefly on his side, and we might guess as much without his admission,
for we have abundant evidence of the unfailing courtesy and sweetness of
manner with which Shelley would in that high-pitched feminine voice of
his advance the most staggering propositions and patiently encounter the
arguments of his adversaries.

Such contentions, victorious as he always held himself to be in them,
annoyed Haydon. The queer blend, in the atmosphere of the Hampstead
cottage, of eager kindness and hospitality and a graceful, voluble
enthusiasm for the 'luxuries' of poetry, art, and nature with slatternly
housekeeping and a spirit of fervent or flippant anti-Christianity,
became distasteful to him, and he afterwards dated from these days his
gradual estrangement from Hunt and his circle. At the same time he began
to try and draw away Keats from Hunt's influence.

Keats, we are told, though much inclining in these days towards the
Voltairian views of his host, would take little part in such debates as
that above narrated, and once even supported another young member of the
circle, Joseph Severn, in a defence of Christianity against Hunt and
Shelley. To Shelley himself, his senior by three years, his relation was
from the first and remained to the end one of friendly civility and
little more. He did not take to Shelley as kindly as Shelley did to him,
says Hunt, and adds the comment: 'Keats, being a little too sensitive on
the score of his origin, felt inclined to see in every man of birth a
sort of natural enemy.' 'He was haughty, and had a fierce hatred of
rank,' says Haydon in his unqualified way. Where his pride had not been
aroused by anticipation, Keats, as we have seen, was eagerly
open-hearted to new friendships, and it may well be that the reserve he
maintained towards Shelley was assumed at first by way of defence
against the possibility of social patronage on the other's part. But he
must soon have perceived that from Shelley, a gentleman of gentlemen,
such an attitude was the last thing to be apprehended, and the cause of
his standing off was much more likely his knowledge that nearly all
Shelley's literary friends were his pensioners,--from Godwin, the
greediest, to Leigh Hunt, the lightest-hearted,--and a fear that he too
might be supposed to expect a similar bounty. It would seem that in his
spirit of independence he gave Shelley the impression of being much
better off than he was,--or possibly instances of his only too ready
generosity in lending from his modest means to his intimates when they
were hard pressed may have come to Shelley's knowledge: at all events a
few months later we find Shelley casting about for persons able to help
him in helping Hunt, and writing under a false impression, 'Keats
certainly can.'

These two young poets, equally and conjointly beloved by posterity, were
in truth at many points the most opposite-natured of men. Pride and
sensitiveness apart, we can imagine that a full understanding was not
easy between them. Keats, with the rich elements of earthly clay in his
composition, his lively vein of every-day common-sense and humour, his
keen, tolerant delight and interest in the aspects and activities of
nature and human nature as he found them, may well have been as much
repelled as attracted by Shelley, Shelley the 'Elfin knight,' the spirit
all air and fire, with his passionate repudiation of the world's ways
and the world's law, his passionate absorption in his vision of a
happier scheme of things, a vision engendered in humanitarian dreams
from his readings of Rousseau and Godwin and Plato,--or was it rather
one brought with him from some ante-natal sojourn among the radiances
and serenities of the sunset clouds? Leigh Hunt's way of putting it is
this:--'Keats, notwithstanding his unbounded sympathies with ordinary
flesh and blood, and even the transcendental cosmopolitics of
_Hyperion_, was so far inferior in universality to his great
acquaintance, that he could not accompany him in his daedal rounds with
nature, and his Archimedean endeavours to move the globe with his own
hands.' Of the incidents and results of their intercourse at Hampstead
we know little more than that Shelley, wisely enough in the light of his
own headlong early experiments, tried to dissuade Keats from premature
publication; and that Keats on his part declined, 'in order that he
might have his own unfettered scope,' a cordial invitation from Shelley
to come and stay with him at Great Marlow. Keats, though he must have
known that he could learn much from Shelley's trained scholarship and
fine literary sense, was doubtless right in feeling that whatever power
of poetry might be in him must work its own way to maturity in freedom
and not in leading-strings. To these scanty facts Shelley's cousin
Medwin adds the statement that the two agreed to write in friendly
rivalry the long poems each was severally meditating for his summer's
work, Shelley _Laon and Cythna_, afterwards called _The Revolt of
Islam_, and Keats _Endymion_. This may very well have been the case, but
Medwin was a man so lax of memory, tongue, and pen that his evidence,
unconfirmed, counts for little. Of the influence possibly exercised on
Keats by Shelley's first important poem, _Alastor_, or by his _Hymn to
Intellectual Beauty_ printed in the _Examiner_ during the January of
their intercourse at Hunt's, it will be time to speak later on.

A much closer intimacy sprang up between Keats and the other young
poetic aspirant whom Hunt in his December essay in the _Examiner_ had
bracketed with him and Shelley. This was John Hamilton Reynolds, of
whom we have as yet heard only the name. He was a handsome, witty,
enthusiastic youth a year younger than Keats, having been born at
Shrewsbury in September 1796. Part of his boyhood was spent in
Devonshire near Sidmouth, a countryside to which he remained always
deeply attached; but he was still quite young when his father came and
settled in London as mathematical master and head writing master at
Christ's Hospital. The elder Reynolds and his wife were people of
literary leanings and literary acquaintance, and seem to have been
characters in their way: both Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt were
frequenters of their house in Little Britain, and Mrs Reynolds is
reported as holding her own well among the talkers at Lamb's evenings.
Their son John was educated at St Paul's school and showed talent and
inclinations which drew him precociously into the literary movement of
the time. At eighteen he wrote an Eastern tale in verse in the Byronic
manner, _Safie_, of which Byron acknowledged the presentation copy in a
kind and careful letter several pages long. Two years later, just about
the time of his first introduction to Keats at Leigh Hunt's, the
youngster had the honour of receiving a similar attention from
Wordsworth in reply to a presentation of another poem, _The Naiad_
(November 1816). Neither of these two youthful volumes, nor yet a third,
_The Eden of Imagination_, showed much more than a quick susceptibility
to nature and romance, and a gift of falling in readily and gracefully
now with one and now with another of the poetic fashions of the hour.
Byron, Scott, Wordsworth, and Leigh Hunt were alternately his models.

The same gift of adaptiveness which Reynolds showed in serious work made
him when he chose a deft, sometimes even a masterly, parodist in the
humourous vein, and his work done in this vein a few years later in
collaboration with Thomas Hood holds its own well beside that of his
associate. Partly owing to the persuasions of the lady to whom he was
engaged, Reynolds early gave up the hope of a literary career and went
into business as a solicitor. In 1818 he inscribed a farewell sonnet to
the Muses in a copy of Shakespeare which he gave to Keats, and in 1821
he writes again

                           As time increases
  I give up drawling verse for drawing leases.

In point of fact he continued to write occasionally for some years, and
in the end failed somewhat tragically to prosper in the profession of
law. During these early years he was not only one of the warmest friends
Keats had but one of the wisest, to whom Keats could open his innermost
mind with the certainty of being understood, and who once at least saved
him from a serious mistake. A sonnet written by him within three months
of their first meeting proves with what warmth of affection as well as
with what generosity of admiration the one young aspirant from the first
regarded the other. Keats one day, calling on Cowden Clarke and finding
him asleep over Chaucer, passed the time by writing on the blank space
at the end of _The Floure and the Lefe_, a poem with which he was
already familiar, the sonnet beginning 'This pleasant tale is like a
little copse.'[2] Reynolds's comment after reading it is as follows:--

  Thy thoughts, dear Keats, are like fresh-gathered leaves,
    Or white flowers pluck'd from some sweet lily bed;
    They set the heart a-breathing, and they shed
  The glow of meadows, mornings, and spring eyes,
  O'er the excited soul.--Thy genius weaves
    Songs that shall make the age be nature-led,
    And win that coronal for thy young head
  Which time's strange hand of freshness ne'er bereaves.
  Go on! and keep thee to thine own green way,
    Singing in that same key which Chaucer sung;
  Be thou companion of the summer day,
    Roaming the fields and older woods among:--
  So shall thy muse be ever in her May
    And thy luxuriant spirit ever young.

Reynolds had two sisters, Marianne and Jane, older than himself, and a
third, Charlotte, several years younger. With the elder two Keats was
soon on terms of almost brotherly intimacy and affection, seeing them
often at the family home in Little Britain, exchanging lively letters
with them in absence, and contributing to Jane's album sets of verses
some of which have only through this means been preserved. A little
later the piano-playing of the youngest sister, Charlotte, was often a
source of great pleasure to him.

Outside his own family Reynolds had an inseparable friend with whom
Keats also became quickly intimate: this was James Rice, a young
solicitor of literary tastes and infinite jest, chronically ailing or
worse in health, but always, in Keats's words, 'coming on his legs again
like a cat'; ever cheerful and willing in spite of his sufferings, and
indefatigable in good offices to those about him: 'dear noble generous
James Rice,' records Dilke,--'the best, and in his quaint way one of the
wittiest and wisest men I ever knew.' It was through Rice that there
presently came to Reynolds that uncongenial business opening which in
worldly wisdom he held himself bound to accept. Besides Reynolds,
another and more insignificant young versifying member, or satellite, of
Hunt's set when Keats first joined it was one Cornelius Webb, remembered
now, if remembered at all, by the derisory quotation in _Blackwood's
Magazine_ of his rimes on Byron and Keats, as well as by a disparaging
allusion in one of Keats's own later letters. He disappeared early from
the circle, but not before he had caught enough of its spirit to write
sonnets and poetical addresses which might almost be taken for the work
of Hunt, or even for that of Keats himself in his weak moments; and for
some years afterwards served as press-reader in the printing-office of
Messrs. Clowes, being charged especially with the revision of the
_Quarterly_ proofs.

To turn to other close associates of Keats during the same period, known
to him not through Hunt but through his brothers,--a word may suffice
for Charles Wells, to whom we find him addressing in the summer of 1816
a sonnet of thanks for a gift of roses. Wells had been a schoolmate of
Tom Keats and R.H. Horne, and is described as in those days a small,
red-headed, snub-nosed, blue-eyed youth of irrepressible animal spirits.
Now or somewhat later he formed an intimacy, never afterwards broken,
with Hazlitt. Keats's own regard for Wells was short-lived, being
changed a year or so later into fierce indignation when Wells played off
a heartless practical joke upon the consumptive Tom in the shape of a
batch of pretended love-letters from an imaginary 'Amena.' It was after
Keats's death that Wells earned a place of his own in literature with
the poetic drama _Joseph and his Brethren_, dead-born in its first
anonymous form and re-animated after many years, but still during the
life-time of its author, through the enthusiasm which its qualities of
intellect and passion inspired in Rossetti and Swinburne.

Of far different importance were two other acquaintanceships, which
Keats owed to his brother George and which in the same months were
ripening into affection, one of them into an affection priceless in the
sequel. The first was with a young solicitor called William Haslam (it
is odd how high a proportion of Keats's intimates were of this
profession). Of him no personal picture has come down to us, but in the
coming days we find him, of all the set, the most prompt and serviceable
on occasions of practical need or urgency: 'our oak friend' he is called
in one such crisis by Joseph Severn. It was as the friend of Haslam, and
through Haslam of his brother George, that Keats first knew Joseph
Severn, whose name is now inseparable from his own. He was two years
Keats's senior, the son of a music-master sprung from an old
Gloucestershire stock and having a good connexion in the northern
suburbs of London. The elder Severn seems to have been much of a
domestic tyrant, and in all things headstrong and hot-headed, but
blessed with an admirable wife whom he appreciated and who contrived to
make the household run endurably if not comfortably. Joseph, the son,
showing a precocious talent for drawing, was apprenticed to a stipple
engraver, but the perpetual task of 'stabbing copper' irked him too
sorely: his ambition was to be a painter, and against the angry
opposition of his father he contrived to attend the Royal Academy
schools, picking up meanwhile for himself what education in letters he
could. He had a hereditary talent for music, an untrained love for books
and poetry, and doubtless some touch already of that engaging social
charm which Ruskin noted in him when they first met five and twenty
years later in Rome. He was beginning to get a little practice as a
miniature painter and to make private attempts in history-painting when
he met the brilliant young poet-student of Guy's, with whom he was shy
and timid at first, as with a sort of superior being. But before long he
became used to drinking in with delight all that Keats, in communicative
hours, was moved to pour out from the play of his imagination or the
stores--infinite as to the innocent Severn they appeared--of his reading
in poetry and history. What especially, he recorded in after life, used
to enrapture him was Keats's talk on the meaning and beauty of the Greek
polytheism as a 'religion of joy.' On his own part he was proud to act
as cicerone to Keats in the British Museum or the British Institution
(the National Gallery as yet was not), and deferentially to point out to
him the glories of the antique or of Titian and Claude and Poussin.

Thus our obscurely-born and half-schooled young medical student, the
orphan son of a Finsbury stable-keeper, found himself at twenty-one,
before the end of his second winter in London, fairly launched in a
world of art, letters, and liberal aspirations and living in familiar
intimacy with some, and friendly acquaintance with others, of the most
gifted spirits of his time. The power and charm of genius already shone
from him, and impressed alike his older and his younger companions.
Portraits of him verbal and other exist in abundance. A small, compact,
well-turned figure, broad-chested for its height, which was barely an
inch over five feet; a shapely head set off by thickly clustering
gold-brown hair and carried with an eager upward and forward thrust from
the shoulders; the features powerful, finished, and mobile, with an
expression at once bold and sensitive; the forehead sloping and not
high, but broad and strong: the brows well arched above hazel-brown,
liquid flashing eyes, 'like the eyes of a wild gypsy maid in colour, set
in the face of a young god,' Severn calls them. To the same effect
Haydon,--'an eye that had an inward look, perfectly divine, like a
Delphian priestess who saw visions': and again Leigh Hunt,--'the eyes
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 tremble.' In like manner George Keats,--'John's eyes moistened
and his lip quivered at the relation of any tale of generosity or
benevolence or noble daring, or at sights of loveliness or distress.'
And once more Haydon,--'Keats was the only man I ever met who seemed and
looked conscious of a high calling, except Wordsworth.... He was in his
glory in the fields. The humming of a bee, the sight of a flower, the
glitter of the sun, seemed to make his nature tremble, then his eyes
flashed, his cheek glowed and his mouth quivered.' 'Nothing seemed to
escape him,'--I now quote paragraphs compiled by the late Mr William
Sharp from many jotted reminiscences of Severn's,--

  Nothing seemed to escape him, the song of a bird and the undernote of
  response from covert or hedge, the rustle of some animal, the changing
  of the green and brown lights and furtive shadows, the motions of the
  wind--just how it took certain tall flowers and plants--and the
  wayfaring of the clouds: even the features and gestures of passing
  tramps, the colour of one woman's hair, the smile on one child's face,
  the furtive animalism below the deceptive humanity in many of the
  vagrants, even the hats, clothes, shoes, wherever these conveyed the
  remotest hint as to the real self of the wearer. Withal, even when in
  a mood of joyous observance, with flow of happy spirits, he would
  suddenly become taciturn, not because he was tired, not even because
  his mind was suddenly wrought to some bewitching vision, but from a
  profound disquiet which he could not or would not explain.

  Certain things affected him extremely, particularly when 'a wave was
  billowing through a tree,' as he described the uplifting surge of air
  among swaying masses of chestnut or oak foliage, or when, afar off, he
  heard the wind coming across woodlands. 'The tide! the tide!' he would
  cry delightedly, and spring on to some stile, or upon the low bough of
  a wayside tree, and watch the passage of the wind upon the meadow
  grasses or young corn, not stirring till the flow of air was all
  around him, while an expression of rapture made his eyes gleam and his
  face glow till he 'would look sometimes like a wild fawn waiting for
  some cry from the forest depths,' or like 'a young eagle staring with
  proud joy before taking flight.'...

  Though small of stature, not more than three-quarters of an inch over
  five feet, he seemed taller, partly from the perfect symmetry of his
  frame, partly from his erect attitude and a characteristic backward
  poise (sometimes a toss) of the head, and, perhaps more than anything
  else, from a peculiarly dauntless expression, such as may be seen on
  the face of some seamen....

  The only time he appeared as small of stature was when he was reading,
  or when he was walking rapt in some deep reverie; when the chest fell
  in, the head bent forward as though weightily overburdened, and the
  eyes seemed almost to throw a light before his face....

  The only thing that would bring Keats out of one of his fits of
  seeming gloomful reverie--the only thing, during those
  country-rambles, that would bring the poet 'to himself again' was the
  motion 'of the inland sea' he loved so well, particularly the violent
  passage of wind across a great field of barley. From fields of oats or
  barley it was almost impossible to allure him; he would stand, leaning
  forward, listening intently, watching with a bright serene look in his
  eyes and sometimes with a slight smile, the tumultuous passage of the
  wind above the grain. The sea, or thought-compelling images of the
  sea, always seemed to restore him to a happy calm.

In regard to Keats's social qualities, he is said, and owns himself, to
have been not always quite well conditioned or at his ease in the
presence of women, but in that of men all accounts agree that he was
pleasantness itself: quiet and abstracted or brilliant and voluble by
turns, according to his mood and company, but thoroughly amiable and
unaffected. His voice was rich and low, and when he joined in
discussion, it was usually with an eager but gentle animation, while his
occasional bursts of fierce indignation at wrong or meanness bore no
undue air of assumption, and failed not to command respect. 'In my
knowledge of my fellow beings,' says Cowden Clarke, 'I never knew one
who so thoroughly combined the sweetness with the power of gentleness,
and the irresistible sway of anger, as Keats. His indignation would have
made the boldest grave; and they who had seen him under the influence of
injustice and meanness of soul would not forget the expression of his
features--"the form of his visage was changed."'

In lighter moods his powers of mimicry and dramatic recital are
described as great and never used unkindly. He loved the exhibition of
any kind of energy, and was as almost as keen a spectator of the rough
and violent as of the tender and joyous aspects and doings of life and
nature. 'Though a quarrel in the streets,' he says, 'is a thing to be
hated the energies displayed in it are fine; the commonest man shows a
grace in his quarrel.' His yearning love for the old polytheism and
instinctive affinity with the Greek spirit did not at all blunt his
relish of actualities. To complete our picture and illustrate the wide
and unfastidious range of his contact with life and interest in things,
let us take Cowden Clarke's account of the way he could enjoy and
re-enact such a scene of brutal sport and human low-life as our
refinement no longer tolerates:--

  His perception of humour, with the power of transmitting it by
  imitation, was both vivid and irresistibly amusing. He once described
  to me having gone to see a bear-baiting. The performance not having
  begun, Keats was near to, and watched, a young aspirant, who had
  brought a younger under his wing to witness the solemnity, and whom he
  oppressively patronized, instructing him in the names and qualities of
  all the magnates present. Now and then, in his zeal to manifest and
  impart his knowledge, he would forget himself, and stray beyond the
  prescribed bounds into the ring, to the lashing resentment of its
  comptroller, Mr William Soames, who, after some hints of a practical
  nature to 'keep back' began laying about him with indiscriminate and
  unmitigable vivacity, the Peripatetic signifying to his pupil. 'My
  eyes! Bill Soames giv' me sich a licker!' evidently grateful, and
  considering himself complimented upon being included in the general
  dispensation. Keats's entertainment with and appreciation of this
  minor scene of low life has often recurred to me. But his concurrent
  personification of the baiting, with his position,--his legs and arms
  bent and shortened till he looked like Bruin on his hind legs, dabbing
  his fore paws hither and thither, as the dogs snapped at him, and now
  and then acting the gasp of one that had been suddenly caught and
  hugged--his own capacious mouth adding force to the personation, was a
  remarkable and as memorable a display.

Thus stamped by nature, and moving in such a circle as we have
described, Keats found among those with whom he lived nothing to check,
but rather everything to foster, his hourly growing, still diffident and
half awe-stricken, passion for the poetic life. Poetry and the love of
poetry were at this period in the air. It was a time when even people of
business and people of fashion read: a time of literary excitement,
expectancy, discussion, and disputation such as England has not known
since. Fortunes, even, had been made or were being made in poetry; by
Scott, by Byron, by Moore, whose _Irish Melodies_ were an income to him
and who was known to have just received a cheque of £3000 in advance for
_Lalla Rookh_. In such an atmosphere Keats, having enough of his
inheritance left after payment of his school and hospital expenses to
live on for at least a year or two, soon found himself induced to try
his luck and his powers with the rest. The backing of his friends was
indeed only too ready and enthusiastic. His brothers, including the
business member of the family, the sensible and practical George, were
as eager that John should become a famous poet as he was himself. So
encouraged, he made up his mind to give up the pursuit of surgery for
that of literature, and declared his decision, being now of age, firmly
to his guardian; who naturally but in vain opposed it to the best of his
power. The consequence was a quarrel, which Mr Abbey afterwards related,
in a livelier manner than we should have expected from him, in the same
document, now unfortunately gone astray, to which I have already
referred as containing his character of the poet's mother. The die was
cast. In the Marlborough Street studio, in the Hampstead cottage, in the
City lodgings of the three brothers and the social gatherings of their
friends, it was determined that John Keats (or according to his
convivial _alias_ 'Junkets') should put forth a volume of his poems.
Leigh Hunt brought on the scene a firm of publishers supposed to be
sympathetic, the brothers Charles and James Ollier, who had already
published for Shelley and who readily undertook the issue. The volume
was printed, and the last proof-sheets were brought one evening to the
author amid a jovial company, with the intimation that if a dedication
was to be added the copy must be furnished at once. Keats going to one
side quickly produced the sonnet _To Leigh Hunt Esqr_, with its
excellent opening and its weak conclusion:--

  Glory and Loveliness have pass'd away;
    For if we wander out in early morn,
    No wreathed incense do we see upborne
  Into the East to meet the smiling day:
  No crowd of nymphs soft-voiced and young and gay,
    In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
    Roses and pinks, and violets, to adorn
  The shrine of Flora in her early May.
  But there are left delights as high as these,
    And I shall ever bless my destiny,
  That in a time when under pleasant trees
    Pan is no longer sought, I feel a free,
  A leafy luxury, seeing I could please,
    With these poor offerings, a man like thee.

With this confession of a longing retrospect towards the beauty of the
old pagan world and of gratitude for present friendship, the young
poet's first venture was sent forth, amid the applauding expectations of
all his circle, in the first days of March 1817.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] These drawings are preserved in the Department of Prints and
    Drawings at the British Museum.

  [2] Cowden Clarke, writing many years later, suggests that this was
    Keats's first acquaintance with Chaucer. He is certainly mistaken. It
    was on Feb. 27, 1817, that Keats called and found him asleep as
    related in the text. Within a week was published the volume of
    _Poems_, with the principal piece, _Sleep and Poetry_, partly
    modelled on the _Floure and the Lefe_ itself and headed with a
    quotation from it. It is needless to add that later criticism does
    not admit _The Floure and Lefe_ into the canon of Chaucer's works.



CHAPTER IV

THE 'POEMS' OF 1817

  Spirit and chief contents of the volume--Sonnets and rimed
  heroics--The Chapman sonnet--The 'How many bards' sonnet--The
  sex-chivalry group--The Leigh Hunt group--The Haydon pair--The Leander
  sonnet--Epistles--History of the 'heroic' couplet--The closed and free
  systems--Marlowe--Drayton--William Browne--Chapman and Sandys--Decay
  of the free system--William Chamberlayne--Milton and
  Marvell--Waller--Katherine Philips--Dryden--Pope and his
  ascendency--Reaction: The Brothers Warton--Symptoms of
  Emancipation--Coleridge, Wordsworth and Scott--Leigh Hunt and couplet
  reform--Keats to Mathew: influence of Browne--_Calidore_: influence of
  Hunt--Epistle to George Keats--Epistle to Cowden Clarke--_Sleep and
  Poetry_ and _I stood tiptoe_--Analysis of _Sleep and Poetry_--Double
  invocation--Vision of the Charioteer--Battle-cry of the new
  poetry--Its strength and weakness--Challenge and
  congratulation--Encouragements acknowledged--Analysis of _I stood
  tiptoe_--Intended induction to _Endymion_--Relation to
  Elizabethans--Relation to contemporaries--Wordsworth and Greek
  Mythology--_Tintern Abbey_ and the three stages--Contrasts of
  method--Evocation _versus_ Exposition.


The note of Keats's early volume is accurately struck in the motto from
Spenser which he prefixed to it:--

  What more felicity can fall to creature
  Than to enjoy delight with liberty?

The element in which his poetry moves is liberty, the consciousness of
release from those conventions and restraints, not inherent in its true
nature, by which the art had for the last hundred years been hampered.
And the spirit which animates him is essentially the spirit of delight:
delight in the beauty and activities of nature, in the vividness of
sensation, in the charm of fable and romance, in the thoughts of
friendship and affection, in anticipations of the future, and in the
exercise of the art itself which expresses and communicates all these
joys.

Technically considered, the volume consists almost entirely of
experiments in two metrical forms: the one, the Italian sonnet of octave
and sestet, not long fully re-established in England after being
disused, with some exceptions, since Milton: the other, the decasyllabic
or five-stressed couplet first naturalized by Chaucer, revived by the
Elizabethans in all manner of uses, narrative, dramatic, didactic,
elegiac, epistolary, satiric, and employed ever since as the predominant
English metre outside of lyric and drama. The only exceptions in the
volume are the boyish stanzas in imitation of Spenser,--truly rather of
Spenser's eighteenth century imitators; the _Address to Hope_ of
February 1815, quite in the conventional eighteenth century style and
diction, though its form, the sextain stanza, is ancient; the two copies
of verses _To some Ladies_ and _On receiving a curious Shell from some
Ladies_, composed for the Misses Mathew, about May of the same year, in
the triple-time jingle most affected for social trifles from the days of
Prior to those of Tom Moore; and the set of seven-syllabled couplets
drafted in February 1816 for George Keats to send as a valentine to Miss
Wylie. So far as their matter goes these exceptions call for little
remark. Both the sea-shell verses and the valentine spring from a brain,
to quote a phrase of Keats's own,

         --new stuff'd in youth with triumphs gay
  Of old romance,--

especially with chivalric images and ideas from Spenser. Of the second
set of shell stanzas it may perhaps be noted that they seem to suggest
an acquaintance with Oberon and Titania not only through the _Midsummer
Night's Dream_ but through Wieland's _Oberon_, a romance poem which
Sotheby's translation had made well known in England and in which the
fairy king and queen are divided by a quarrel far deeper and more
durable than in Shakespeare's play.[1]

Taking first the score or so of sonnets in the volume, we find that none
of them are love-sonnets and that few are written in any high mood of
passion or exaltation. They are for the most part of the class called
'occasional',--records of pleasant experience, addresses of friendly
greeting or invocation, or compact meditations on a single theme. They
bespeak a temper cordial and companionable as well as enthusiastic,
manifest sincerity in all expressions of personal feeling, and contain
here and there a passage of fine mature poetry. These, however, are
seldom sustained for more than a single quatrain. The great exception of
course is the sonnet, almost too well known to quote,--but I will quote
it nevertheless,--on Chapman's _Homer_. That walk in the morning
twilight from Clerkenwell to the Borough had enriched our language with
what is by common consent one of its masterpieces in this form, having a
close unsurpassed for the combined qualities of serenity and
concentration: concentration twofold, first flashing on our mind's eye
the human vision of the explorer and his companions with their looks and
gestures, then symbolically evoking through that vision a whole
world-wide range of the emotions of discovery.

  Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
  Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
  Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer rul'd as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
  Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
  Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
  Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
  Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The 'realms of gold' lines in the Chapman sonnet, recording Keats's
range of reading in our older poetry, had been in a measure anticipated
in this other, written six months earlier[2]:--

  How many bards gild the lapses of time!
    A few of them have ever been the food
    Of my delighted fancy,--I could brood
  Over their beauties, earthly, or sublime:
  And often, when I sit me down to rhyme,
    These will in throngs before my mind intrude:
    But no confusion, no disturbance rude
  Do they occasion; 'tis a pleasing chime.
  So the unnumber'd sounds that evening store;
    The songs of birds--the whisp'ring of the leaves--
    The voice of waters--the great bell that heaves
  With solemn sound,--and thousand others more,
    That distance of recognizance bereaves,
  Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.

Technical points worth attention here are the bold reversal of the
regular accentual stress twice over in the first line, and the strained
use of 'store' for 'fill' and 'recognizance' for 'recognition.' But the
main interest of the sonnet is its comparison of the working of Keats's
miscellaneous poetic reading in his mind and memory with the effect of
the confused but harmonious sounds of evening on the ear,--a frank and
illuminating comment by himself on those stray echoes and reminiscences
of the older poets which we catch now and again throughout his work.
Such echoes and reminiscences are always permitted to genius, because
genius cannot help turning whatever it takes into something new of its
own: and Keats showed himself from the first one of those chartered
borrowers who have the right to draw inspiration as they please, whether
direct from nature or, in the phrase of Wordsworth,

  From the great Nature that exists in works
  Of mighty poets.[3]

Compare Shelley in the preface to _Prometheus Unbound_:--'One great poet
is a masterpiece of nature which another not only ought to study but
must study.'

Most of the remaining sonnets can best be taken in groups, each group
centering round a single theme or embodying a single mood or vein of
feeling. One is what may be called the sex-chivalry group, including the
sequence of three printed separately from the rest and beginning,
'Woman, when I behold thee flippant, vain'; that beginning 'Had I a
man's fair form'; that addressed to Georgiana Wylie, with its admirable
opening, 'Nymph of the downward smile, etc.,' and its rather lame
conclusion; to which, as more loosely connected with the group, and
touched in some degree with Byronic suggestion, may be added 'Happy is
England, sweet her artless daughters.' That excellent critic, the late
F.T. Palgrave, had a singular admiration for the set of three which I
have placed at the head of this group: to me its chief interest seems
not poetical but personal, inasmuch as in it Keats already defines with
self-knowledge the peculiar blend in his nature of ardent, idealizing
boyish worship of woman and beauty with an acute critical sensitiveness
to flaws of character defacing his ideal in actual women: a
sensitiveness which grew with his growth and many a time afterwards put
him ill at ease with his company and himself.

A large proportion of the remaining sonnets centre themselves more or
less closely about the figure of Leigh Hunt. Two introduce him directly
by name and had the effect of definitely marking Keats down, in the
minds of reactionary critics, as a victim to be swooped upon in
association with Hunt whenever occasion offered. The two are the early
sonnet composed on the day of Hunt's release from prison (February 5,
1815), and shown shyly as a first flight to Cowden Clarke immediately
afterwards, and the dedicatory sonnet already quoted on the decay of the
old pagan beauty, written almost exactly two years later. Intermediate
in date between these two come two or three sonnets of May and June 1816
which, whether inspired directly or not by intercourse with Hunt, are
certainly influenced by his writing, and express a townsman's enjoyment
of country walks in a spirit and vocabulary near akin to his:--'To one
who has been long in city pent' (this opening comes with only the change
of a word from _Paradise Lost_), 'O Solitude, if I with thee must
dwell,' 'As late I rambled in the happy fields.' There is a memory of
Wordsworth, and probably also of Epping Forest walks, in the cry to
Solitude:--

                             Let me thy vigils keep
  'Mongst boughs pavillion'd, where the deer's swift leap
  Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.

Next comes the autumn group definitely recording the happiness received
by the young poet from intercourse with Hunt and his friends, from the
society of his brothers in London, and from walks between the Hampstead
cottage and in their city lodgings:--'Give me a golden pen,' 'Small,
busy flames play through the fresh-laid coals,' 'Keen, fitful gusts are
whispering here and there': to which may be added the sonnet _On the_
_Grasshopper and Cricket_ written in Hunt's house and in friendly
competition with him.

A second new friend, Haydon, has a pair of sonnets in the volume all to
himself, including that well-known one which brackets him with
Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt among great spirits destined to give the world
another heart and other pulses. A few of the sonnets stand singly apart
from the rest by their subject or occasion. Such is the sonnet in honour
of the Polish hero Kosciusko; and such again is that addressed to George
Keats from Margate, with its fine ocean quatrain (Keats was always well
inspired in writing of the sea):--

  The ocean with its vastness, its blue green,
    Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears,
    Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
  Must think on what will be, and what has been.

Now that we are posthumously acquainted with the other sonnets written
by Keats in these early years it is a little difficult to see on what
principle he made his choice of the specimens to be published in this
1817 volume. Among those excluded, he may well have thought the early
attempts on the peace of 1814, on Chatterton, and on Byron, too feeble,
though he has included others scarcely better. That headed 'As from the
darkening gloom a silver dove' he may have counted too conventionally
pious; and that satirizing the starched gloom of church-goers too likely
on the other hand to give offence. The second Haydon pair, on visiting
the Elgin marbles, and the recently discovered pair on receiving a
laurel crown from Leigh Hunt,[4] seem not to have been written (as that
on the _Floure and the Lefe_ certainly was not) until the book was
passing, or had passed, the press. The last-named pair he would probably
have had the good sense to omit in any case, as he has the sonnet
celebrating a like laureation at the hands of a young lady at an earlier
date. But why leave out 'After dark vapours' and 'Who loves to peer,'
and above all why the admirable sonnet on Leander? The date of this was
March 16, 1816, the occasion the gift by a lady of one of James Tassie's
coloured paste reproductions of an engraved gem of the subject.
'Tassie's gems' were at this time immensely popular among lovers of
Grecian taste, and were indeed delightful things, though his originals
were too uncritically chosen and included but a small proportion of true
antiques among a multitude of Renaissance and eighteenth-century
imitations. Keats at one time proposed to make a collection of them for
himself, and at another asked his young sister whether she would like a
present of some. The sonnet opens with lines curiously recalling those
invitations, or invocations, with which Dante begins some of his sonnets
in the _Vita Nuova_.[5] The last three lines are an example, hardly to
be bettered, of condensed expression and of imagination kindling into
instantaneous tragic vitality a cold and meagre image presented to the
eye.

  Come hither all sweet maidens soberly,
    Down-looking aye, and with a chasten'd light
    Hid in the fringes of your eyelids white,
  And meekly let your fair hands joined be,
  As if so gentle that ye could not see,
    Untouch'd, a victim of your beauty bright,
    Sinking away to his young spirit's night,--
  Sinking bewilder'd 'mid the dreary sea:
  'Tis young Leander toiling to his death;
    Nigh swooning, he doth purse his weary lips
      For Hero's cheek, and smiles against her smile.
    O horrid dream! see how his body dips
      Dead-heavy; arms and shoulders gleam awhile:
  He's gone: up bubbles all his amorous breath![6]

More than half the volume is taken up with epistles and meditative
pieces (Drayton would have called them Elegies and Ben Jonson Epigrams)
in the regular five-stressed or decasyllabic couplet. The earliest of
these is the epistle to Felton Mathew from which I have already given a
quotation. The form of the verse in this case is modelled pretty closely
on Browne's _Britannia's Pastorals_. Keats, as has been said, was
already familiar with the work of this amiable Spenserian allegorist, so
thin and tedious in the allegorical part of his work proper, in romantic
invention so poorly inspired, so admirable, genuine, and vivacious on
the other hand in his scenes and similitudes from real west-country life
and in notes of patriotism both local and national. By the following
motto chosen from Browne's work Keats seems to put the group of
_Epistles_ in his volume under that poet's particular patronage:--

  Among the rest a shepheard (though but young
  Yet hartned to his pipe) with all the skill
  His few yeeres could, began to fit his quill.

But before coming to questions of the special influences which
successively shaped Keats's aims both as to style and versification in
poems of this form, I shall ask the reader to pause with me awhile and
get freshly and familiarly into his ear and mind, what to special
students is well known but to others only vaguely, the story of the
chief phases which this most characteristic of English measures had gone
through until the time when Keats tried to handle it in a spirit more or
less revolutionary. Some of the examples I shall quote by way of
illustration are passages which we know to have been specially familiar
to Keats and to which we shall have occasion to recur. Let us first
consider Chaucer's use, as illustrated in a part of the prayer of
Emilia to Diana in the _Knightes Tale_:--

  O chastë goddesse of the wodës grene,
  To whom bothe hevene and erthe and see is sene,
  Quene of the regne of Pluto derk and lowe,
  Goddesse of maydens, that myn herte hast knowe
  Ful many a yeer, and woost what I desire,
  As keep me fro thy vengeance and thyn ire,
  That Attheon aboughtë cruelly.
  Chastë goddessë, wel wostow that I
  Desire to been a mayden al my lyf,
  Ne never wol I be no love ne wyf.
  I am, thou woost, yet of thy companye,
  A mayde, and love hunting and venerye,
  And for to walken in the wodës wilde,
  And noght to been a wyf, and be with childe.
  Noght wol I knowë companye of man.
  Now help me, lady, sith ye may and can,
  For tho thre formës that thou hast in thee.
  And Palamon, that hath swich love to me,
  And eek Arcite, that loveth me so sore,
  This grace I preyë thee with-outë more,
  As sendë love and pees bitwixte hem two;
  And fro me turne awey hir hertës so,
  That al hir hotë love, and hir desyr,
  And al hir bisy torment, and hir fyr
  Be queynt, or turnëd in another place;
  And if so be thou wolt not do me grace,
  Or if my destinee be shapen so,
  That I shal nedës have oon of hem two,
  As sende me him that most desireth me.

The rime-syllables with which Chaucer ends his lines are as a rule
strong and followed by a pause, or at least by the grammatical
possibility of a pause, though there are exceptions like the division of
'I | desire.' The general effect of the metre is that of a succession of
separate couplets, though their separation is often slight and the
sentence is allowed to run on with little break through several couplets
divided from each other by no break of more than a comma. When a full
stop comes and ends the sentence, it is hardly ever allowed to break a
line by falling at any point except the end. On the other hand it is as
often as not used to divide the couplet by falling at the end not of the
second but of the first line, so that the ear has to wait a moment in
expectancy until the second, beginning a new sentence, catches up the
rime of the first like an echo. Other, slighter pauses fall quite
variably where they will, and there is no regular breathing pause or
caesura dividing the line after the second or third stress.

When the measure was revived by the Elizabethans two conflicting
tendencies began to appear in its treatment. One was to end each line
with a full and strong rime-syllable, noun or verb or emphatic
adjective, and to let each couplet consist of a single sentence, or at
any rate a single clause of a sentence, so as to be both grammatically
and rhythmically almost independent of the next. Under this, which is
called the closed or stopped couplet system, the rime-pattern and the
sense or sentence-pattern, which together compose the formal elements in
all rimed verse, are made strictly to coincide, and within the limits of
a couplet no full break of the sense is allowed. Rhetorical and
epigrammatical point and vigour are the special virtues of this system:
its weaknesses are monotony of beat and lack of freedom and variety in
sentence structure. The other and opposite tendency is to suffer the
sentence or period to develop itself freely, almost as in prose, running
over as it will from one couplet into another, and coming to a full
pause at any point in the line; and at the same time to let any syllable
whatever, down to the lightest of prepositions or auxiliaries, serve at
need as a rime-syllable. Under this system the sense and consequent
sentence-pattern winds in and out of the rime-pattern variously and
deviously, the rime-echo striking upon the ear now with emphasis, now
lightly and fugitively, and being sometimes held up to follow a full
pause and sometimes hurried on with the merest suggestion or insinuation
of a possible pause, or with none at all. The virtues of this system are
variety and freedom of movement; its special dangers are
invertebrateness and a tendency to straggle and wind itself free of all
real observance of rime-effect or metrical law.

Most of the Elizabethans used both systems interchangeably, now a string
of closed couplets, and now a flowing period carried through a
succession of couplets overrunning into one another. Spenser in _Mother
Hubbard's Tale_ and Marlowe in _Hero and Leander_ were among the
earliest and best revivers of the measure, and both inclined to the
closed couplet system, Spenser the more strictly of the two, as the
satiric and epigrammatic nature of his theme might naturally dictate.
Let us take a well known passage from Marlowe:--

  It lies not in our power to love or hate,
  For will in us is over-ruled by fate.
  When two are stript, long ere the course begin,
  We wish that one should lose, the other win;
  And one especially do we affect
  Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
  The reason no man knows; let it suffice,
  What we behold is censured by our eyes.
  Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
  Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

  He kneeled; but unto her devoutly prayed:
  Chaste Hero to herself thus softly said,
  'Were I the saint he worships, I would hear him;'
  And, as she spake those words, came somewhat near him.
  He started up; she blushed as one ashamed;
  Wherewith Leander much more was inflamed.
  He touched her hand; in touching it she trembled:
  Love deeply grounded, hardly is dissembled.
  These lovers parlèd by the touch of hands:
  True love is mute, and oft amazèd stands.
  Thus while dumb signs their yielding hearts entangled,
  The air with sparks of living fire was spangled;
  And Night, deep-drenched in misty Acheron,
  Heaved up her head, and half the world upon
  Breathed darkness forth (dark night is Cupid's day).

The first ten lines, conveying moral saws or maxims, furnish almost a
complete example of the closed couplet system, and not only of that, but
of the division of single lines by a pause or caesura after the second
or third stress. When the narrative begins, the verse moves still
mainly in detached couplets (partly because a line of moral reflection
is now and again paired with a line of narrative), but with a growing
inclination to prolong the sentence and vary the rhythm, and with an
abundant use, in the rimes, of the double or feminine ending, for which
Chaucer affords precedent enough.

Drayton, a poet in whom Keats was well read, is commonly quoted as one
who yielded habitually to the attraction of the closed couplet; and
indeed he will often run on through page on page of twinned verses, or
'gemells' as he calls them, like these from the imaginary Epistle from
Eleanor Cobham to Duke Humphrey:--

  Why, if thou wilt, I will myself deny,
  Nay, I'll affirm and swear, I am not I:
  Or if in that thy shame thou dost perceive,
  Lo, for thy dear sake, I my name will leave.
  And yet, methinks, amaz'd thou shouldst not stand,
  Nor seem so much appallèd at my hand;
  For my misfortunes have inur'd thine eye
  (Long before this) to sights of misery.
  No, no, read on, 'tis I, the very same,
  All thou canst read, is but to read my shame.
  Be not dismay'd, nor let my name affright;
  The worst it can, is but t' offend thy sight;
  It cannot wound, nor do thee deadly harm,
  It is no dreadful spell, no magic charm.

But Drayton is also very capable of the full-flowing period and the
loose over-run of couplet into couplet, as witness the following from
one of his epistles:--

  O God, though Virtue mightily do grieve
  For all this world, yet will I not believe
  But that she's fair and lovely and that she
  So to the period of the world will be;
  Else had she been forsaken (sure) of all,
  For that so many sundry mischiefs fall
  Upon her daily, and so many take
  Up arms against her, as it well might make
  Her to forsake her nature, and behind
  To leave no step for future time behind,
  As she had never been, for he that now
  Can do her most disgrace, him they allow
  The time's chief Champion--.

Turning to Keats's next favourite among the old poets, William Browne of
Tavistock, here is a passage from _Britannia's Pastorals_ which we know
to have stuck in his memory, and which illustrates the prevailing
tendency of the metre in Browne's hands to run in a succession of
closed, but not too tightly closed, couplets, and to abound in double or
feminine rime-endings which make a variation in the beat:--

  And as a lovely maiden, pure and chaste,
  With naked iv'ry neck, and gown unlaced,
  Within her chamber, when the day is fled,
  Makes poor her garments to enrich her bed:
  First, put she off her lily-silken gown,
  That shrieks for sorrow as she lays it down;
  And with her arms graceth a waistcoat fine,
  Embracing her as it would ne'er untwine.
  Her flaxen hair, ensnaring all beholders,
  She next permits to wave about her shoulders,
  And though she cast it back, the silken slips
  Still forward steal and hang upon her lips:
  Whereat she sweetly angry, with her laces
  Binds up the wanton locks in curious traces,
  Whilst (twisting with her joints) each hair long lingers,
  As loth to be enchain'd but with her fingers.
  Then on her head a dressing like a crown;
  Her breasts all bare, her kirtle slipping down,
  And all things off (which rightly ever be
  Call'd the foul-fair marks of our misery)
  Except her last, which enviously doth seize her,
  Lest any eye partake with it in pleasure,
  Prepares for sweetest rest, while sylvans greet her,
  And longingly the down bed swells to meet her.

Chapman, a poet naturally rugged of mind and speech and moreover
hampered by having to translate, takes much greater liberties,
constantly breaking up single lines with a full stop in the middle and
riming on syllables too light or too grammatically dependent on the word
next following to allow naturally any stress of after-pause, however
slight; as thus in the sixth _Odyssey_:--

  These, here arriv'd, the mules uncoach'd, and drave
  Up to the gulfy river's shore, that gave
  Sweet grass to them. The maids from coach then took
  Their clothes, and steep'd them in the sable brook;
  Then put them into springs, and trod them clean
  With cleanly feet; adventuring wagers then,
  Who should have soonest and most cleanly done.
  When having throughly cleans'd, they spread them on
  The flood's shore, all in order. And then, where
  The waves the pebbles wash'd, and ground was clear,
  They bath'd themselves, and all with glittering oil
  Smooth'd their white skins; refreshing then their toil
  With pleasant dinner, by the river's side;
  Yet still watch'd when the sun their clothes had dried.
  Till which time, having dined, Nausicaa
  With other virgins did at stool-ball play,
  Their shoulder-reaching head-tires laying by.

The other classical translation of the time with which Keats was most
familiar was that of the _Metamorphoses_ of Ovid by the traveller and
colonial administrator George Sandys. As a rule Sandys prefers the
regular beat of the self-contained couplet, but now and again he too
breaks it uncompromisingly: for instance,--

  Forbear yourselves, O Mortals, to pollute
  With wicked food: fields smile with corn, ripe fruit
  Weighs down their boughs; plump grapes their vines attire;
  There are sweet herbs, and savory roots, which fire
  May mollify, milk, honey redolent
  With flowers of thyme, thy palate to content.
  The prodigal earth abounds with gentle food;
  Affording banquets without death or blood.
  Brute beasts with flesh their ravenous hunger cloy:
  And yet not all; in pastures horses joy:
  So flocks and herds. But those whom Nature hath
  Endued with cruelty, and savage wrath
  (Wolves, bears, Armenian tigers, Lions) in
  Hot blood delight. How horrible a sin,
  That entrails bleeding entrails should entomb!
  That greedy flesh, by flesh should fat become!
  While by one creature's death another lives!

Contemporary masters of elegiac and epistolary verse often deal with the
metre more harshly and arbitrarily still. Thus Donne, the great Dean of
St Paul's, though capable of riming with fine sonority and richness,
chooses sometimes to write as though in sheer defiance of the obvious
framework offered by the couplet system; and the same refusal to stop
the sense with the couplet, the same persistent slurring of the rime,
the same broken and jerking movement, are plentifully to be matched from
the epistles of Ben Jonson. In later and weaker hands this method of
letting the sentence march or jolt upon its way in almost complete
independence of the rime developed into a fatal disease and decay of the
metre, analogous to the disease which at the same time was overtaking
and corrupting dramatic blank verse. A signal instance, to which we
shall have to return, is the _Pharonnida_ of William Chamberlayne,
(1659) a narrative poem not lacking momentary gleams of intellect and
imagination, and by some insatiate students, including Southey and
Professor Saintsbury, admired and praised in spite of its (to one reader
at least) intolerable tedium and wretched stumbling, shuffling verse,
which rimes indeed to the eye but to the ear is mere mockery and
vexation. For example:--

  Some time in silent sorrow spent, at length
  The fair Pharonnida recovers strength,
  Though sighs each accent interrupted, to
  Return this answer:--'Wilt, oh! wilt thou do
  Our infant love such injury--to leave
  It ere full grown? When shall my soul receive
  A comfortable smile to cherish it,
  When thou art gone? They're but dull joys that sit
  Enthroned in fruitless wishes; yet I could
  Part, with a less expense of sorrow, would
  Our rigid fortune only be content
  With absence; but a greater punishment
  Conspires against us--Danger must attend
  Each step thou tread'st from hence; and shall I spend
  Those hours in mirth, each of whose minutes lay
  Wait for thy life? When Fame proclaims the day
  Wherein your battles join, how will my fear
  With doubtful pulses beat, until I hear
  Whom victory adorns! Or shall I rest
  Here without trembling, when, lodged in thy breast,
  My heart's exposed to every danger that
  Assails thy valour, and is wounded at
  Each stroke that lights on thee--which absent I,
  Prompted by fear, to myriads multiply.'

The tendency which culminated in this kind of verse was met by a
counteracting tendency in the majority of poets to insist on the regular
emphatic rime-beat, and to establish the rime-unit--that is the separate
couplet--as the completely dominant element in the measure, the 'heroic'
measure as it had come to be called. The rule is nowhere so dogmatically
laid down as by Sir John Beaumont, the elder brother of the dramatist,
in an address to King James I:--

  In every language now in Europe spoke
  By nations which the Roman Empire broke,
  The relish of the Muse consists in rime:
  One verse must meet another like a chime.
  Our Saxon shortness hath peculiar grace
  In choice of words fit for the ending place,
  Which leave impression in the mind as well
  As closing sounds of some delightful bell.

Milton at nineteen, in a passage of his college _Vacation Exercise_,
familiar to Keats and for every reason interesting to read in connexion
with the poems expressing Keats's early aspirations, showed how the
metre could still be handled nobly in the mixed Elizabethan manner:--

  Hail native Language, that by sinews weak
  Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak,

       *       *       *       *       *

  I have some naked thoughts that rove about
  And loudly knock to have their passage out;
  And wearie of their place do only stay
  Till thou hast deck't them in thy best array;
  That so they may without suspect or fears
  Fly swiftly to this fair Assembly's ears;
  Yet I had rather if I were to chuse,
  Thy service in some graver subject use,
  Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
  Before thou cloath my fancy in fit sound:
  Such where the deep transported mind may soare
  Above the wheeling poles, and at Heav'ns dore
  Look in, and see each blissful Deitie
  How he before the thunderous throne doth lie,
  Listening to what unshorn Apollo sings
  To th' touch of golden wires, while Hebe brings
  Immortal Nectar to her Kingly Sire:
  Then passing through the Spheres of watchful fire,
  And mistie Regions of wide air next under,
  And hills of Snow and lofts of piled Thunder,
  May tell at length how green-ey'd Neptune raves,
  In Heav'ns defiance mustering all his waves;
  Then sing of secret things that came to pass
  When Beldam Nature in her cradle was;
  And last of Kings and Queens and Hero's old,
  Such as the wise Demodocus once told
  In solemn Songs at King Alcinous feast,
  While sad Ulisses soul and all the rest
  Are held with his melodious harmonie
  In willing chains and sweet captivitie.

But the strictly closed system advocated by Sir John Beaumont prevailed
in the main, and by the days of the Commonwealth and Restoration was
with some exceptions generally established. Some poets were enabled by
natural fineness of ear and dignity of soul to make it yield fine rich
and rolling modulations: none more so than Andrew Marvell, as for
instance in his noble poem on the death of Cromwell. The name especially
associated in contemporary and subsequent criticism with the attainment
of the admired quality of 'smoothness' (another name for clipped and
even monotony of rime and rhythm) in this metre is Waller, the famous
parliamentary and poetical turncoat who could adulate with equal unction
first the Lord Protector and then the restored Charles. By this time,
however, every rimer could play the tune, and thanks to the controlling
and suggesting power of the metre itself, could turn out couplets with
the true metallic and epigrammatic ring: few better than Katherine
Philips ('the matchless Orinda'), who was a stickler for the strictest
form of the couplet and wished even to banish all double endings. Take
this from her elegy on the death of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia
(1662):--

  Although the most do with officious heat
  Only adore the living and the great,
  Yet this Queen's merits Fame so far hath spread,
  That she rules still, though dispossest and dead.
  For losing one, two other Crowns remained;
  Over all hearts and her own griefs she reigned.
  Two Thrones so splendid as to none are less
  But to that third which she does now possess.
  Her heart and birth Fortune as well did know,
  That seeking her own fame in such a foe,
  She drest the spacious theatre for the fight:
  And the admiring World call'd to the sight:
  An army then of mighty sorrows brought,
  Who all against this single virtue fought;
  And sometimes stratagems, and sometimes blows,
  To her heroic soul they did oppose:
  But at her feet their vain attempts did fall,
  And she discovered and subdu'd them all.

Cowley in his long 'heroic' poem _The Davideis_ admits the occasional
Alexandrine or twelve-syllable line as a variation on the monotony of
the rhythm. Dryden, with his incomparably sounder and stronger literary
sense, saw the need for a richer variation yet, and obtained it by the
free use both of triple rimes and of Alexandrines: often getting fine
effects of sweeping sonority, although by means which the reader cannot
but feel to be arbitrary, imported into the form because its monotony
calls for relief rather than intrinsic and natural to it. Chaucer's
prayer, above quoted, of Emilia to Diana runs thus in Dryden's
'translation':--

  O Goddess, Haunter of the Woodland Green,
  To whom both Heav'n and Earth and Seas are seen;
  Queen of the nether Skies, where half the Year
  Thy Silver Beams descend, and light the gloomy Sphere;
  Goddess of Maids, and conscious of our Hearts,
  So keep me from the Vengeance of thy Darts,
  Which Niobe's devoted Issue felt,
  When hissing through the Skies the feather'd Deaths were dealt:
  As I desire to live a Virgin-life,
  Nor know the Name of Mother or of Wife.
  Thy Votress from my tender Years I am,
  And love, like thee, the Woods and Sylvan Game.
  Like Death, thou know'st, I loath the Nuptial State,
  And Man, the Tyrant of our Sex, I hate,
  A lowly Servant, but a lofty Mate.
  Where Love is Duty on the Female Side,
  On theirs mere sensual Gust, and sought with surly Pride.
  Now by thy triple Shape, as thou art seen
  In Heav'n, Earth, Hell, and ev'ry where a Queen,
  Grant this my first Desire; let Discord, cease,
  And make betwixt the Rivals lasting Peace:
  Quench their hot Fire, or far from me remove
  The Flame, and turn it on some other Love.
  Or if my frowning Stars have so decreed,
  That one must be rejected, one succeed,
  Make him my Lord, within whose faithful Breast
  Is fix'd my Image, and who loves me best.

In serious work Dryden avoided double endings almost entirely, reserving
them for playful and colloquial use in stage prologues, epilogues, and
the like, thus:--

  I come, kind Gentlemen, strange news to tell ye;
  I am the Ghost of poor departed Nelly.
  Sweet Ladies, be not frighted; I'll be civil;
  I'm what I was, a little harmless Devil.
  For, after death, we Sprights have just such Natures,
  We had, for all the World, when human Creatures.

In the following generation Pope discarded, with the rarest exceptions,
all these variations upon the metre and wrought up successions of
separate couplets, each containing a single sentence or clause of a
sentence complete, and each line having its breathing-pause or caesura
almost exactly in the same place, to a pitch of polished and glittering
elegance, of striking, instantaneous effect both upon ear and mind,
which completely dazzled and subjugated not only his contemporaries but
three full generations of rimers and readers after them. Everyone knows
the tune; it is the same whether applied to purposes of pastoral
sentiment or rhetorical passion or playful fancy, of Homeric translation
or Horatian satire, of witty and plausible moral and critical reflection
or of savage personal lampoon and invective. Let the reader turn in
memory from Ariel's account of the duties of his subordinate elves and
fays:--

  Some in the fields of purest ether play,
  And bask and whiten in the blaze of day:
  Some guide the course of wandering orbs on high,
  Or roll the planets through the boundless sky:
  Some, less refin'd, beneath the moon's pale light
  Pursue the stars that shoot athwart the night,
  Or suck the mists in grosser air below,
  Or dip their pinions in the painted bow,
  Or brew fierce tempests on the wintry main,
  Or o'er the glebe distil the kindly rain.
  Others, on earth, o'er human race preside,
  Watch all their ways, and all their actions guide,--

let the reader turn in memory from this to the familiarly known lines in
which Pope congratulates himself

  That not in fancy's maze he wandered long,
  But stoop'd to truth, and moraliz'd his song;
  That not for fame, but virtue's better end,
  He stood the furious foe, the timid friend,
  The damning critic, half approving wit,
  The coxcomb hit, or fearing to be hit;
  Laughed at the loss of friends he never had,
  The dull, the proud, the wicked, and the mad;
  The distant threats of vengeance on his head,
  The blow unfelt, the tear he never shed;
  The tale revived, the lie so oft o'erthrown,
  The imputed trash, and dulness not his own,--

and again from this to his castigation of the unhappy Bayes:--

  Swearing and supperless the hero sate,
  Blasphem'd his gods, the dice, and damn'd his fate;
  Then gnaw'd his pen, then dash'd it on the ground,
  Sinking from thought to thought, a vast profound!
  Plung'd for his sense, but found no bottom there,
  Yet wrote and flounder'd on in mere despair.
  Round him much embryo, much abortion lay,
  Much future ode, and abdicated play;
  Nonsense precipitate, like running lead,
  That slipped through cracks and zigzags of the head.

The author thus brilliantly and evenly accomplished in one metre and so
many styles ruled as a sovereign long after his death, his works being
published in nearly thirty editions before the end of the century; and
the measure as thus fixed and polished by him became for a full hundred
years the settled norm and standard for English 'heroic' verse, the
length and structure of periods, sentences and clauses having to be
rigidly clipped to fit it. In this respect no change of practice came
till after the whole spirit of English poetry had been changed. Almost
from Pope's own day the leaven destined to produce what came afterwards
to be called the romantic revolution was working, in the main
unconsciously, in men's minds. Of conscious rebels or pioneers, two of
the chief were that admirable, ridiculous pair of clerical brothers
Joseph and Thomas Warton, Joseph long headmaster of Winchester, Thomas
professor of poetry at Oxford and later poet laureate. Joseph Warton
made at twenty-four, within two years of Pope's death, a formal protest
against the reign of the polished and urbane moral essay in verse, and
at all times stoutly maintained 'Invention and Imagination' to be the
chief qualities of a poet; illustrating his views by what he called
odes, to us sadly uninspired, of his own composition. His younger
brother Thomas, with his passion for Gothic architecture, his masterly
editing of Spenser, and his profound labours on the origin and history
of our native English poetry, carried within him, for all his grotesque
personality, many of the germs of the spirit that was to animate the
coming age. As the century advanced, other signs and portents of what
was to come were Chatterton's audaciously brilliant blunder of the
Rowley forgeries, with the interest which it excited, the profound
impression created by the pseudo-Ossian of Macpherson, and the
enthusiastic reception of Percy's _Reliques_. But current critical taste
did not recognize the meaning of these signs, and tacitly treated the
breach between our older and newer literatures as complete. Admitting
the older as a worthy and interesting subject of study and welcoming the
labour of scholars--even those of pretended scholars--in collecting and
publishing its remains or what purported to be such, criticism none the
less expected and demanded of contemporary production that it should
conform as a matter of course to the standards established since
language and style had been 'polished' and reduced to 'correctness' by
Dryden and Pope. Thomas Warton, wishing to celebrate in verse the
glories of the Gothic architecture of Oxford, finds himself constrained
to do so strictly in the dominant style and measure. His brother, the
protesting Joseph, actually has to enrol himself among Pope's editors,
and when for once he uses the heroic couplet and lets his fancy play
upon the sight of a butterfly in Hackwood Park, must do so, he too, in
this thoroughly Popeian wise:--

  Fair child of Sun and Summer, we behold
  With eager eyes thy wings bedropp'd with gold;
  The purple spots that o'er thy mantle spread,
  The sapphire's lively blue, the ruby's red,
  Ten thousand various blended tints surprise,
  Beyond the rainbow's hues or peacock's eyes:
  Not Judah's king in eastern pomp array'd,
  Whose charms allur'd from far the Sheban maid,
  High on his glitt'ring throne, like you could shine
  (Nature's completest miniature divine):
  For thee the rose her balmy buds renews,
  And silver lillies fill their cups with dews;
  Flora for thee the laughing fields perfumes,
  For thee Pomona sheds her choicest blooms.

William Blake, in his _Poetical Sketches_ of 1784, poured scorn on the
still reigning fashion for 'tinkling rhymes and elegances terse', and
himself struck wonderful lyric notes in the vein of our older poetry:
but nobody read or marked Blake: he was not for his own age but for
posterity. Even those of the eighteenth century poets who in the main
avoided the heroic couplet, and took refuge, like Thomson, in the
Spenserian stanza or Miltonic blank verse, or confined themselves to
lyric or elegiac work like Gray,--even they continued to be hampered by
a strict conventional and artificial code of poetic style and diction.
The first full and effective note of emancipation, of poetical
revolution and expansion, in England was that struck by Coleridge and
Wordsworth with the publication and defence of their _Lyrical Ballads_
(1798, 1800). Both these young masters had written in the established
mould in their quite earliest work, but afterwards disused it almost
entirely (_The Happy Warrior_ is of course a conspicuous exception);
while their contemporary Walter Scott avoided it from the first.

The new poetry, whether cast in forms derived from or coloured by the
old ballad literature of the country, or helping itself from the
simplicities and directnesses of common every-day speech, or going back
to Miltonic and pre-Miltonic tradition, fought its way to recognition
now slowly, as in the case of Wordsworth, in whose style all these three
elements play their part, now rapidly in the face of all opposition, as
in the case of Scott with his dashing Border lays. But the heroic
couplet on the Queen Anne model still held the field as the reigning and
official form of verse; and among the most admired poets of Keats's day,
Rogers, Campbell, and Crabbe in the older generation, each in his own
manner, still kept sounding the old instrument essentially to the old
tune, with Byron in the younger following, in _The Corsair_ and _Lara_,
at a pace more rapid and helter-skelter but with a beat even more
monotonous and hammering than any of theirs. We have seen how Leigh Hunt
declared his intention to try a reform of the measure, and how he
carried out his promise in _Rimini_. He did little more than revive
Dryden's expedients of the occasional triplet and Alexandrine, with a
sprinkling of Elizabethan double-endings; failing withal completely to
catch any touch either of the imaginative passion of the Elizabethans or
of Dryden's fine virile energy and worldly good-breeding.

_Rimini_ was not yet published, nor had Keats yet met its author, when
Keats wrote his Epistle to Felton Mathew in November 1815. If, as is the
case, his strain of social ease and sprightliness jars on us a little in
the same manner as Hunt's, it is that there was really as he himself
said on another occasion, something in common between them. At the same
time it should be remembered that some of Keats's most Huntian-seeming
rimes and phrases contain really an echo of the older masters.[7] That
William Browne was his earliest model in the handling of the metre will,
I think, be apparent to any reader who will put the passage from
_Britannia's Pastorals_ above quoted (p. 98), with its easily flowing
couplets varied at intervals by whole clusters or bunches of double
endings, alongside of the following from Keats's first Epistle:--

  Too partial friend! fain would I follow thee
  Past each horizon of fine poesy;
  Fain would I echo back each pleasant note
  As o'er Sicilian seas, clear anthems float
  'Mong the light skimming gondolas far parted,
  Just when the sun his farewell beam has darted:
  But 'tis impossible; far different cares
  Beckon me sternly from soft 'Lydian airs,'
  And hold my faculties so long in thrall,
  That I am oft in doubt whether at all
  I shall again see Phoebus in the morning:
  Or flush'd Aurora in the roseate dawning!
  Or a white Naiad in a rippling stream;
  Or a rapt seraph in a moonlight beam;
  Or again witness what with thee I've seen,
  The dew by fairy feet swept from the green,
  After a night of some quaint jubilee
  Which every elf and fay had come to see:
  When bright processions took their airy march
  Beneath the curved moon's triumphal arch.
  But might I now each passing moment give
  To the coy muse, with me she would not live
  In this dark city, nor would condescend
  'Mid contradictions her delights to lend.
  Should e'er the fine-ey'd maid to me be kind,
  Ah! surely it must be whene'er I find
  Some flowery spot, sequester'd, wild, romantic,
  That often must have seen a poet frantic;
  Where oaks, that erst the Druid knew, are growing,
  And flowers, the glory of one day, are blowing;
  Where the dark-leav'd laburnum's drooping clusters
  Reflect athwart the stream their yellow lustres,
  And intertwin'd the cassia's arms unite,
  With its own drooping buds, but very white.

This is artless enough as writing, but obviously sincere, and
interesting as showing how early and instinctively both Greek and
mediæval mythology had become to Keats symbols and incarnations, as
living as in the days of their first creation, of the charm and power of
nature. The piece ends with a queer Ovidian fancy about his friend, to
the effect that he, Mathew, had once been a 'flowret blooming wild'
beside the springs of poetry, and that Diana had plucked him and thrown
him into the stream as an offering to her brother Apollo, who had turned
him into a goldfinch, from which he was metamorphosed into a black-eyed
swan fed by Naiads.

The next experiments in this measure, the fragment of _Calidore_ with
its _Induction_, date from a few months later, after the publication of
_Rimini_, and express the longing of the young aspirant to follow the
example of Hunt, the loved Libertas, and tell, he too, a tale of
chivalry. But the longing is seconded by scarce a touch of inspiration.
The Gothic and nature descriptions are quite cheap and external, the
figures of knights and ladies quite conventional, the whole thing a
matter of plumes and palfreys and lances, shallow graces of costume and
sentiment, much more recalling Stothard's sugared illustrations to
Spenser than the spirit of Spenser himself, whose patronage Keats
timorously invokes. He at the same time entreats Hunt to intercede with
Spenser on his behalf: and in the result it seems as though Hunt had
stepped bodily in between them. In the handling of the metre, indeed,
there is nothing of Hunt's diluted Drydenism: there is the same direct
though timid following of Elizabethan precedents as before, varied by an
occasional echo of _Lycidas_ in the use of the short six-syllable
line:--

  Anon he leaps along the oaken floors
  Of halls and corridors.

But in the style and sentiment we trace Leigh Hunt, or those elements in
Keats which were naturally akin to him, at every turn. We read, for
instance, of trees that lean

  So elegantly o'er the waters brim
  And show their blossoms trim:

and of

  The lamps that from the high-roof'd hall were pendent
  And gave the steel a shining quite transcendent.

A few months later, on his August and September holiday at Margate,
Keats resumes the measure again, in two familiar epistles, one to his
brother George, the other to Cowden Clarke. To his brother he expresses
frankly, and in places felicitously, the moods and aspirations of a
youth passionately and justly conscious of the working of the poetic
impulse in him, but not less justly dissatisfied with the present fruits
of such impulse, and wondering whether any worth gathering will ever
come to ripeness. He tells us of hours when all in vain he gazes at the
play of sheet lightning or pries among the stars 'to strive to think
divinely,' and of other hours when the doors of the clouds break open
and show him visions of the pawing of white horses, the flashing of
festal wine cups in halls of gold, and supernatural colours of dimly
seen flowers. In such moods, he asks concerning an imagined poet:--

  Should he upon an evening ramble fare
  With forehead to the soothing breezes bare,
  Would he naught see but the dark silent blue
  With all its diamonds trembling through and through?
  Or the coy moon, when in the waviness
  Of whitest clouds she does her beauty dress,
  And staidly paces higher up, and higher,
  Like a sweet nun in holy-day attire?
  Ah, yes! much more would start into his sight--
  The revelries, and mysteries of night:
  And should I ever see them, I will tell you
  Such tales as needs must with amazement spell you.

But richer even than these privileges of the poet in his illuminated
moments is the reward which he may look for from posterity. In a long
passage, deeply pathetic considering the after-event, Keats imagines
exultingly what must be a poet's deathbed feelings when he foresees how
his name and work will be cherished in after times by men and women of
all sorts and conditions--warrior, statesman, and philosopher, village
May-queen and nursing mother (the best and most of the verses are those
which picture the May-queen taking his book from her bosom to read to a
thrilled circle on the village green). He might be happier, he admits,
could he stifle all these ambitions. Yet there are moments when he
already tastes the true delights of poetry; and at any rate he can take
pleasure in the thought that his brother will like what he writes; and
so he is content to close with an attempt at a quiet description of the
Thanet scenery and surroundings whence he writes.

In addressing Cowden Clarke Keats begins with an odd image, likening the
way in which poetic inspiration eludes him to the slipping away of drops
of water which a swan vainly tries to collect in the hollows of his
plumage. He would have written sooner, he tells his correspondent, but
had nothing worthy to submit to one so familiar with the whole range of
poetry and recently, moreover, privileged to walk and talk with Leigh
Hunt,--

  One, who, of late, had ta'en sweet forest walks
  With him who elegantly chats, and talks--
  The wrong'd Libertas,--who has told you stories
  Of laurel chaplets, and Apollo's glories;
  Of troops chivalrous prancing through a city,
  And tearful ladies made for love, and pity.

(The allusion in the last three lines is of course to _The Feast of the
Poets and Rimini_. The passage seems to make it certain that whatever
intercourse Keats himself may up to this time have had with Hunt was
slight.) Even now, he goes on, he would not show Clarke his verses but
that he takes courage from their old friendship and from his sense of
owing to it all he knows of poetry. Recurring to the pleasantness of his
present surroundings, he says that they have inspired him to attempt the
verses he is now writing for his friend, which would have been better
only that they have been too long parted. Then follow the lines quoted
farther back (p. 37) in affectionate remembrance of old Enfield and
Edmonton days.

In these early attempts Keats again ventures some way, but not yet far,
in the direction of breaking the fetters of the regular couplet. He runs
his sentences freely enough through a succession of lines, but nine
times out of ten with some kind of pause as well as emphasis on the
rime-word. He deals freely in double endings, and occasionally, but not
often (oftenest in the epistle to George) breaks the run of a line with
a full stop in or near the middle. He is in like manner timid and
sparing as yet in the use, to which a little later he was to give rein
so fully, of Elizabethan word-forms, or forms modelled for himself on
Elizabethan usage.

Somewhat more free and adventurous alike in metre and in diction are the
two poems, _Sleep and Poetry_ and '_I stood tip-toe_,' which Keats wrote
after he came back to London in the autumn. These are the things which,
together with two or three of the sonnets, give its real distinction and
high promise to the volume. Both in substance and intention they are
preludes merely, but preludes of genius, and, although marked by many
immaturities, as interesting and attractive perhaps as anything which
has ever been written by a poet of the same age about his art and his
aspirations. In them the ardent novice communes intently with himself on
his own hopes and ambitions. Possessed by the thrilling sense that
everything in earth and air is full, as it were, of poetry in solution,
he has as yet no clearness as to the forms and modes in which these
suspended elements will crystallize for him. In _Sleep and Poetry_ he
tries to get into shape his conceptions of the end and aim of poetical
endeavour, conjures up the difficulties of his task, counts over the new
achievement and growing promise of the time in which he lives, and gives
thanks for the encouragement by which he has been personally sustained.
In '_I stood tip-toe_' he runs over the stock of nature-images which are
his own private and peculiar delight, traces in various phases and
aspects of nature a symbolic affinity, or spiritual identity, with
various forms and kinds of poetry; tells how such a strain of verse will
call up such and such a range of nature images, and conversely how this
or that group of outdoor delights will inspire this or that mood of
poetic invention; and finally goes on to speculate on the moods which
first inspired some of the Grecian tales he loves best, and above all
the tale of Endymion and Cynthia, the beneficent wonders of whose bridal
night he hopes himself one day to retell.

_Sleep and Poetry_ is printed at the end of the volume, '_I stood
tip-toe_' at the beginning. It is hard to tell which of the two pieces
was written first.[8] _Sleep and Poetry_ is the longer and more
important, and has more the air of having been composed, so to speak,
all of a piece. We know that '_I stood tip-toe_' was not finished until
the end of December 1816. _Sleep and Poetry_ cannot well have been
written later, seeing that the book was published in the first days of
the following March, and must therefore have gone to press early in the
new year. What seems likeliest is that _Sleep and Poetry_ was written
without break during the first freshness of Keats's autumn intimacy at
the Hampstead cottage; while '_I stood tip-toe_' may have been begun in
the summer and resumed at intervals until the year's end. I shall take
_Sleep and Poetry_ first and let '_I stood tip-toe_' come after, as
being the direct and express prelude to the great experiment,
_Endymion_, which was to follow.

The scheme of _Sleep and Poetry_ is to some extent that of _The Floure
and the Lefe_, the pseudo-Chaucerian poem which, as we have seen, had so
strongly caught Keats's fancy. Keats takes for his motto lines from that
poem telling of a night wakeful but none the less cheerful, and avers
that his own poem was the result of just such another night. An opening
invocation sets the blessings of sleep above a number of other
delightful things which it gives him joy to think of, and recounts the
activities of Sleep personified,--'Silent entangler of a beauty's
tresses,' etc.,--in lines charming and essentially characteristic, for
it is the way of his imagination to be continually discovering active
and dynamic qualities in things and to let their passive and inert
properties be. But far higher and more precious than the blessings of
sleep are those of something else which he will not name:--

  What is it? And to what shall I compare it?
  It has a glory, and nought else can share it:
  The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy,
  Chasing away all worldliness and folly;
  Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder,
  Or the low rumblings earth's regions under;
  And sometimes like a gentle whispering
  Of all the secrets of some wond'rous thing
  That breathes about us in the vacant air;
  So that we look around with prying stare,
  Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial limning,
  And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning;
  To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended.
  That is to crown our name when life is ended.
  Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice,
  And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice!
  Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things,
  And die away in ardent mutterings.

Every enlightened spirit will guess, he implies, that this thing is
poetry, and to Poetry personified he addresses his next invocation,
declaring that if he can endure the overwhelming favour of her
acceptance he will be admitted to 'the fair visions of all places' and
will learn to reveal in verse the hidden beauty and meanings of things,
in an ascending scale from the playing of nymphs in woods and fountains
to 'the events of this wide world,' which it will be given him to seize
'like a strong giant.'

At this point a warning voice within him reminds him sadly of the
shortness and fragility of life, to which an answering inward voice of
gay courage and hope replies. Keats could only think in images, and
almost invariably in images of life and action: those here conveying the
warning and its reply are alike felicitous:--

  Stop and consider! life is but a day;
  A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
  From a tree's summit; a poor Indian's sleep
  While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep
  Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan?
  Life is the rose's hope while yet unblown;
  The reading of an ever-changing tale;
  The light uplifting of a maiden's veil;
  A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
  A laughing school-boy, without grief or care,
  Riding the springy branches of an elm.

Then follows a cry for length enough of years (he will be content with
ten) to carry out the poetic schemes which float before his mind; and
here he returns to his ascending scale of poetic ambitions and sets it
forth and amplifies it with a new richness of figurative imagery. First
the realms of Pan and Flora, the pleasures of nature and the country and
the enticements of toying nymphs (perhaps with a Virgilian touch in his
memory from schoolboy days--_Panaque Silvanumque senem nymphasque
sorores_--certainly with visions from Poussin's Bacchanals in his mind's
eye): then, the ascent to loftier regions where the imagination has to
grapple with the deeper mysteries of life and experiences of the soul.
Here again he can only shadow forth his ideas by evoking shapes and
actions of visible beings to stand for and represent them symbolically.
He sees a charioteer guiding his horses among the clouds, looking out
the while 'with glorious fear,' then swooping downward to alight on a
grassy hillside; then talking with strange gestures to the trees and
mountains, then gazing and listening, 'awfully intent,' and writing
something on his tablets while a procession of various human shapes,
'shapes of delight, of mystery and fear,' sweeps on before his view, as
if in pursuit of some ever-fleeting music, in the shadow cast by a grove
of oaks. The dozen lines calling up to the mind's eye the multitude and
variety of figures in this procession--

  Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways
  Flit onward--

contain less suggestion than we should have expected from what has gone
before, of the events and tragedies of the world, 'the agonies, the
strife of human hearts,'--and close with the vision of

                      a lovely wreath of girls
  Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls,

as if images of pure pagan joy and beauty would keep forcing themselves
on the young aspirant's mind in spite of his resolve to train himself
for the grapple with sterner themes.

This vision of the charioteer and his team remained in Keats's mind as a
symbol for the imagination and its energies. For the moment, so his poem
goes on, the vision vanishes, and the sense of every-day realities seems
like a muddy stream bearing his soul into nothingness. But he clings to
the memory of that chariot and its journey; and thereupon turns to
consider the history of English poetry and the dearth of imagination
from which it had suffered for so many years. Here comes the famous
outbreak, first of indignant and then of congratulatory criticism, which
was the most explicit battle-cry of the romantic revolution in poetry
since the publication of Wordsworth's preface to the second edition of
_Lyrical Ballads_ seventeen years earlier:--

                       Is there so small a range
  In the present strength of manhood, that the high
  Imagination cannot freely fly
  As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
  Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
  Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all?
  From the clear space of ether, to the small
  Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
  Of Jove's large eye-brow, to the tender greening
  Of April meadows? Here her altar shone,
  E'en in this isle; and who could paragon
  The fervid choir that lifted up a noise
  Of harmony, to where it aye will poise
  Its mighty self of convoluting sound,
  Huge as a planet, and like that roll round,
  Eternally around a dizzy void?
  Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd
  With honors; nor had any other care
  Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair.
    Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
  Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
  Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
  Men were thought wise who could not understand
  His glories: with a puling infant's force
  They sway'd about upon a rocking horse
  And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul'd!
  The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd
  Its gathering waves--ye felt it not. The blue
  Bared its eternal bosom,[9] and the dew
  Of summer nights collected still to make
  The morning precious: beauty was awake!
  Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
  To things ye knew not of,--were closely wed
  To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
  And compass vile: so that ye thought a school
  Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
  Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
  Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
  A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
  Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
  That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
  And did not know it,--no, they went about,
  Holding a poor, decrepid standard out
  Mark'd with most flimsy mottos, and in large
  The name of one Boileau!

The two great elder captains of poetic revolution, Coleridge and
Wordsworth, have expounded their cause, in prose, with full maturity of
thought and language: Wordsworth in the austere contentions of his
famous prefaces to his second edition (1800), Coleridge in the luminous
retrospect of the _Biographia Literaria_ (1816). In the interval a cloud
of critics, including men of such gifts as Lamb, Hazlitt, and Leigh
Hunt, were in their several ways champions of the same cause. But none
of these has left any enunciation of theory having power to thrill the
ear and haunt the memory like the rimes of this young untrained recruit,
John Keats. It is easy, indeed, to pick his verses to shreds, if we
choose to fix a prosaic and rational attention on their faults. What is
it, for instance, that imagination is asked to do? Fly, or drive? Is it
she, or her steeds, that are to paw up against the light? And why paw?
Deeds to be done upon clouds by pawing can hardly be other than
strange. What sort of a verb is 'I green, thou greenest?' Why should the
hair of the muses require 'soothing'?--if it were their tempers it would
be more intelligible. And surely 'foppery' belongs to civilization and
not to 'barbarism': and a standard-bearer may be decrepit but not a
standard, and a standard flimsy but not a motto. And so on without end,
if we choose to let the mind assume that attitude and to resent the
contemptuous treatment of a very finished artist and craftsman by one as
yet obviously raw and imperfect. Byron, in his controversy with Bowles a
year or two later, adopted this mode of attack effectively enough; his
spleen against a contemporary finding as usual its most convenient
weapon in an enthusiasm, partly real and partly affected, for the genius
and the methods of Pope. But controversy apart, if we have in us a touch
of instinct for the poetry of imagination and beauty, as distinct from
that of taste and reason and 'correctness',--however clearly we may see
the weak points of a passage like this, yet we cannot but feel that
Keats touches truly the root of the matter: we cannot but admire the
ring and power of his appeal to the elements, his fine spontaneous and
effective turns of rhetoric, and the elastic life and variety of his
verse.

So much for the indignant part of the passage. The congratulatory part
repeats with different imagery the sense of the sonnet to Haydon
beginning 'Great spirits now on earth are sojourning,' and declares that
fine sounds are once more floating wild about the earth, wherefore the
Muses are now glad and happy. But the congratulations, it next occurs to
the young poet, need to be qualified. To some of the recent achievements
of poetry he demurs, declaring that their themes of song are 'ugly
clubs' and the poets who fling them Polyphemuses 'disturbing the grand
sea of song' (Keats is here remembering the huge club which Ulysses and
his companions, in the Homeric story, find in the cave of Polyphemus,
and confusing it with the rocks which the blinded giant later tears up
and hurls after them into the sea).[10] The obvious supposition is that
Keats is here referring to Byron's Eastern tales, with their clamour and
heat and violence of melodramatic action and passion. Leigh Hunt,
indeed, who ought to have known, asserts in his review of the volume
that they are aimed against 'the morbidity which taints some of the
productions of the poets of the Lake School.' I suspect that Hunt is
here attributing to Keats some of his own poetical aversions. What
productions can he mean? Southey's _Curse of Kehama_? Coleridge's
_Ancient Mariner_ or _Christabel_? Wordsworth's relatively few poems, or
episodes, of tragic life--as the _Mad Mother_, _Ruth_, _Margaret_? For
certainly the strained simplicities and trivialities of some of his
country ballads, which were what Leigh Hunt and his friends most
disliked in Wordsworth's work, could never be called thunders.

But these jarring things, Keats goes on, shall not disturb him. He will
believe in and seek to enter upon the kingdom of poetry where all shall
be gentle and soothing like a lawn beneath a myrtle tree,

  And they shall be accounted poet-kings
  Who simply sing the most heart-easing things.

Then a momentary terror of his own presumption seizes him; but he puts
it away, defies despondency, and declares that for all his youth and
lack of learning and wisdom, he has a vast idea before him, and a clear
conception of the end and aim of poetry. Dare the utmost he will--and
then once more the sense of the greatness of the task comes over him,
and he falls back for support on thoughts of recent friendship and
encouragement. A score of lines follow, recalling happy talks at Hunt's
over books and prints: the memory of these calls up by association a
string of the delights ('luxuries' as in Huntian phrase he calls them)
of nature: thence he recurs to the pleasures of sleep, or rather of a
night when sleep failed him for thinking over the intercourse he had
been enjoying and the place where he now rested--that is on the couch in
Hunt's library. Here follow the lines quoted above (p. 53) about the
prints on the library walls: and the piece concludes:--

  The very sense of where I was might well
  Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came
  Thought after thought to nourish up the flame
  Within my breast; so that the morning light
  Surprised me even from a sleepless night;
  And up I rose refresh'd, and glad, and gay,
  Resolving to begin that very day
  These lines; and howsoever they be done,
  I leave them as a father does his son.

The best reason for thinking that the poem '_I stood tip-toe_,' though
probably finished quite as late as _Sleep and Poetry_, was begun
earlier, is that in it Keats again follows the practice which he had
attempted in _Calidore_ and its _Induction_ but gave up in _Sleep and
Poetry_, namely that of occasionally introducing a lyrical effect with a
six-syllable line, in the manner used by Spenser in the _Epithalamion_
and Milton in _Lycidas_,--

  Open afresh your round of starry folds,
  Ye ardent marigolds!

No conclusion as to the date when the piece was begun can be drawn from
the scene of summer freshness with which it opens, or from Leigh Hunt's
statement that this description was suggested by a summer's day when he
stood at a certain spot on Hampstead Heath. This may be quite true, but
in the mind of a poet such scenes ripen by recollection, and Keats may
at any after day have evoked it for his purpose, which was to bring his
imagination to the right taking-off place--to plant it, so to speak, on
the right spring-board--from which to start on its flight through a
whole succession of other and kindred images of natural beauty. Some of
the series of evocations that follow are already almost in the happiest
vein of Keats's lighter nature-poetry, especially the four lines about
the sweet peas on tip-toe for a flight, and the long passage recalling
his boyish delights by the Edmonton brookside and telling (in lines
which Tennyson has remembered in his idyll of _Enid_) how the minnows
would scatter beneath the shadow of a lifted hand and come together
again. When in the course of his recapitulation there comes to him the
image of the moon appearing from behind a cloud, he breaks off to
apostrophize that goddess of his imaginative idolatry, that source at
once and symbol, for such to his instinct she truly was, of poetic
inspiration. But for the moment he does not pursue the theme: he pauses
to trace the affinities between several kinds of nature-delight and
corresponding moods of poetry,--

  In the calm grandeur of a sober line,
  We see the waving of the mountain pine;
  And when a tale is beautifully staid,
  We feel the safety of a hawthorn glade,--

and so forth. And then, having in his mind's eye, as I should guess,
some of the mythological prints from Hunt's portfolios, he asks what
moods or phases of nature first inspired the poets of old with the
fables of Cupid and Psyche and of Pan and Syrinx, of Narcissus and Echo,
and most beautiful of all, that of Cynthia and Endymion,--and for the
remaining fifty lines of the poem moonlight and the Endymion story take
full possession. The lines imagining the occasion of the myth's
invention are lovely:--

  He was a Poet, sure a lover too,
  Who stood on Latmus' top, what time there blew
  Soft breezes from the myrtle vale below;
  And brought in faintness solemn, sweet, and slow
  A hymn from Dian's temple; while upswelling,
  The incense went to her own starry dwelling.
  But though her face was clear as infant's eyes,
  Though she stood smiling o'er the sacrifice,
  The Poet wept at her so piteous fate,
  Wept that such beauty should be desolate:
  So in fine wrath some golden sounds he won,
  And gave meek Cynthia her Endymion.

Then, treating the bridal night for the moment not as a myth but as a
thing that actually happened, he recounts, in a strain of purely human
tenderness which owes something to his hospital experience and which he
was hardly afterwards to surpass, the sweet and beneficent influences
diffused on that night about the world:--

  The breezes were ethereal and pure,
  And crept through half-closed lattices to cure
  The languid sick; it cool'd their fever'd sleep,
  And soothed them into slumbers full and deep.
  Soon they awoke clear eyed, nor burnt with thirsting,
  Nor with hot fingers, nor with temples bursting:
  And springing up, they met the wondering sight
  Of their dear friends, nigh foolish with delight;
  Who feel their arms and breasts, and kiss and stare,
  And on their placid foreheads part the hair.
  Young men and maidens at each other gaz'd
  With hands held back, and motionless, amaz'd
  To see the brightness in each other's eyes.

Then, closing, he asks himself the momentous question, 'Was there a poet
born?' which he intended that his next year's work should answer.

In neither of these poems is the use of Elizabethan verbal forms, or the
coinage of similar forms by analogy, carried nearly as far as we shall
find it carried later on, especially in _Endymion_. The abstract nouns
expressing qualities pleasant to the senses or the sensuous imagination,
on the model of those in Chapman's _Hymn to Pan_, increase in number,
and we get the 'quaint mossiness of aged roots,' the 'hurrying
freshnesses' of a stream running over gravel, the 'pure deliciousness'
of the Endymion story, the 'pillow silkiness' of clouds, the 'blue
cragginess' of other clouds, and the 'widenesses' of the ocean of
poetry. Once, evidently with William Browne's 'roundly form' in his
mind, Keats invents, infelicitously enough, an adjective 'boundly' for
'bounden.' In the matter of metre, he is now fairly well at home in the
free Elizabethan use of the couplet, letting his periods develop
themselves unhampered, suffering his full pauses to fall at any point in
the line where the sense calls for them, the rime echo to come full and
emphatic or faint and light as may be, and the pause following the
rime-word to be shorter or longer or almost non-existent on occasion. If
his ear was for the moment attuned to the harmonies of any special
master among the Elizabethans, it was by this time Fletcher rather than
Browne: at least in _Sleep and Poetry_ the double endings no longer come
in clusters as they did in the earlier epistle, nor are the intervening
couplets so nearly regular, while there is a marked preference for
emphasizing an adjective by placing it at the end of a line and letting
its noun follow at the beginning of the next,--'the high |
Imagination,'--'the small | Breath of new buds unfolding.' The reader
will best see my point if he will compare the movement of the passages
in _Sleep and Poetry_ where these things occur with the Endymion passage
he will find quoted later on from the _Faithful Shepherdess_ (p. 168).

As to contemporary influences apparent in Keats's first volume, enough
has been said concerning that of Leigh Hunt. The influence of an
incommensurably greater poet, of Wordsworth, is also to be traced in it.
That Keats was by this time a diligent and critical admirer of
Wordsworth we know: both of the earlier poems and of the _Excursion_,
which had appeared when his passion for poetry was already at its height
in the last year of his apprenticeship at Edmonton. There is a famous
passage in the fourth book of _The Excursion_ where Wordsworth treats of
the spirit of Greek religion and imagines how some of its conceptions
first took shape:--

  In that fair clime, the lonely herdsman, stretched
  On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
  With music lulled his indolent repose:
  And, in some fit of weariness, if he,
  When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear
  A distant strain, far sweeter than the sounds
  Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched,
  Even from the blazing chariot of the sun,
  A beardless Youth, who touched a golden lute,
  And filled the illumined groves with ravishment.
  The nightly hunter, lifting a bright eye
  Up towards the crescent moon, with grateful heart
  Called on the lovely wanderer who bestowed
  That timely light, to share his joyous sport:
  And hence, a beaming Goddess with her Nymphs,
  Across the lawn and through the darksome grove,
  Not unaccompanied with tuneful notes
  By echo multiplied from rock or cave,
  Swept in the storm of chase; as moon and stars
  Glance rapidly along the clouded heaven,
  When winds are blowing strong.

Keats, we know, was familiar with this passage, and a little later on we
shall find him criticizing it in conversation with a friend. Leigh Hunt,
in a review written at the time, hints that it was in his mind when he
wrote the lines in '_I stood tip-toe_,' asking in what mood or under
what impulse a number of the Grecian fables were first invented and
giving the answers to his own questions. We may take Hunt's word for the
fact, seeing that he was constantly in Keats's company at the time.
Other critics have gone farther and supposed it was from Wordsworth that
Keats first learned truly to understand Greek mythology. I do not at all
think so. He would never have pored so passionately over the stories in
the classical dictionaries as a schoolboy, nor mused on them so intently
in the field walks of his apprentice days by sunset and moonlight, had
not some inborn instinct made the world of ancient fable and the world
of natural beauty each equally living to his apprehension and each
equally life-giving to the other. Wordsworth's interpretations will no
doubt have appealed to him profoundly, but not as something new, only as
putting eloquently and justly what he had already felt and divined by
native instinct.

Again, it has been acutely pointed out by Mr Robert Bridges how some of
the ideas expressed by Keats in his own way in _Sleep and Poetry_ run
parallel with some of those expressed in a very different way by
Wordsworth in _Tintern Abbey_, a poem which we know from other evidence
to have been certainly much in Keats's mind a year and a half later.
Wordsworth in _Tintern Abbey_ defines three stages of his own emotional
and imaginative development in relation to nature: first the stage of
mere boisterous physical and animal pleasure: then that of intense and
absorbing, but still unreflecting passion,--

  An appetite, a feeling and a love
  That had no need of a remoter charm
  By thought supplied, nor any interest
  Unborrowed from the eye,--

and lastly the higher, more humanized and spiritualized passion doubly
enriched by the ever-present haunting of 'the still, sad music of
humanity,' and by the

                            sense sublime
  Of something far more deeply interfused,
  Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
  And the round ocean and the living air,
  And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
  A motion and a spirit, that impels
  All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
  And rolls through all things.

Mr Bridges finds Wordsworth's conception of these three stages more or
less accurately paralleled in various passages of Keats's _Sleep and
Poetry_. One passage which he quotes, that in which Keats figures human
life under the string of joyous images beginning, 'A pigeon tumbling in
clear summer air', seems to me irrelevant, as being simply the answer of
the poet's soul to certain melancholy promptings of its own. On the
other hand there certainly is something that reminds us of Wordsworth's
three stages in Keats's repeated indication of the ascending scale of
theme and temper along which he hopes to work. And his long figurative
passage beginning--

  And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
  Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life--

may fairly, at its outset, be compared with Wordsworth's final stage:
only, as I have asked the reader to note, the procession of symbolic and
enigmatic forms and actions which Keats summons up before our mind's
eye, so far from having any fixed or increasing character of pensiveness
or gravity, winds up with a figure of sheer animal happiness and joy of
life.

Mr Bridges further notes, very justly, the striking contrast between the
methods of the elder and the younger poet in these passages, defining
Wordsworth's as a subjective and Keats's as an objective method. I
should be inclined to describe the same difference in another way, and
to say that both by gift and purpose it was the part of Wordsworth to
meditate and expound, while the part of Keats was to imagine and evoke.
Wordsworth, bringing strong powers of abstract thinking to bear on his
intense and intensely realized personal experience, expounds the
spiritual relations of man to nature as he conceives them, sometimes, as
in _Tintern Abbey_ and many passages of _The Prelude_ and _Excursion_,
with more revealing insight and a more exalted passion than any other
poet has attained; sometimes, alas! quite otherwise, when his passion
has subsided, and he must needs to go back upon his experiences and
droningly and flatly analyse and explain them. Keats, on the other hand,
had a mind constitutionally unapt for abstract thinking. When he
conceives or wishes to express general ideas, his only way of doing so
is by calling up, from the multitudes of concrete images with which his
memory and imagination are haunted, such as strike him as fitted by
their colour and significance, their quality of association and
suggestion, to stand for and symbolize the abstractions working in his
mind; and in this concrete and figurative fashion he will be found, by
those who take the pains to follow him, to think coherently and
purposefully enough. Again, Keats's sense of personal identity was ever
ready to be dissolved and carried under by the strength of his
imaginative sympathies. It is not the effect of nature on his personal
self that he realizes and ponders over; what he does is with
ever-participating joy and instantaneous instinct to go out into the
doings of nature and lose himself in them. In the result he neither
strives for or attains, as Mr Bridges truly points out, the sheer
intellectual lucidity which Wordsworth in his most impassioned moments
never loses. But as, in regard to nature, Wordsworth's is the genius of
luminous exposition, so Keats's, even among the immaturities of his
first volume, is the genius of living evocation.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] The lines I mean are--

      This canopy mark: 'tis the work of a fay;
        Beneath its rich shade did King Oberon languish,
      When lovely Titania was far, far away,
        And cruelly left him to sorrow, and anguish.

    Shakespeare's hint for his Oberon and Titania was taken, as is well
    known, from the French prose romance _Huon of Bordeaux_ translated by
    Lord Berners. The plot of Wieland's celebrated poem is founded
    entirely on the same romance. With its high-spiced blend of the
    marvellous and the voluptuous, the cynically gay and the heavily
    moral and pathetic, it had a considerable vogue in Sotheby's
    translation (published 1798) and played a part in the English
    romantic movement of the time. There are several passages in Keats,
    notably in _The Cap and Bells_, where I seem to catch a strain
    reminiscent of this _Oberon_, and one instance where a definite
    phrase from it seems to have lingered subconsciously in his memory
    and been turned to gold, thus:--

      Oft in this speechless language, glance on glance,
      When mute the tongue, how voluble the heart!

        _Oberon_, c. vi, st. 17.

      No utter'd syllable, or woe betide!
      But to her heart her heart was voluble.

        _The Eve of St Agnes_, st. 23.

  [2] March 1816 according to Woodhouse.

  [3] _The Prelude_, book v.

  [4] See above, p. 68.

  [5] Particularly Sonnet XII:--

      Voi che portate la sembianza umile,
      Cogli occhi bassi mostrando dolore.

    It would have been easy to suppose that Keats had learnt something of
    the _Vita Nuova_ through Leigh Hunt: but they were not yet acquainted
    when he wrote the Leander sonnet, so that the resemblance is most
    likely accidental.

  [6] In the earlier editions this sonnet is headed _On a picture of
    Leander_. A note of Woodhouse (Houghton MSS., Transcripts III) puts
    the matter right and gives the date. Which particular Leander gem of
    Tassie's Keats had before him it is impossible to tell. The general
    catalogue of Tassie's reproductions gives a list of over sixty
    representing Leander swimming either alone or with Hero looking down
    at him from her tower. Most of them were not from true antiques but
    from later imitations.

  [7] Here, for instance, are verses of Keats that have often been
    charged with Cockneyism and Huntism:--

      And revelled in a chat that ceased not
      When at nightfall among our books we got.

      The silence when some rimes are coming out,
      And when they're come, the very pleasant rout.

    Well, but had not Drayton written in his _Epistle to Henry
    Reynolds_?--

      My dearly lovèd friend how oft have we
      In winter evenings (meaning to be free)
      To some well-chosen place used to retire,
      And there with moderate meat, and wine, and fire,
      Have past the hour contentedly with chat,
      Now talked of this and then discoursed of that,
      Spoke our own verses 'twixt ourselves, if not
      Other men's lines, which we by chance had got.

    And Milton in the _Vacation Exercise_?--

      I have some lively thoughts that rove about,
      And loudly knock to have their passage out.

  [8] It is to be remembered that in his famous volume of 1820 Keats
    prints first the poem he had last written, _Lamia_.

  [9] So Wordsworth in his famous sonnet:--

      This sea that bares its bosom to the moon.

  [10] In Lord Houghton's and nearly all editions of Keats, including,
    I am sorry to say, my own, this phrase has been corrected, quite
    without cause, into the trite 'ugly cubs.'



CHAPTER V

APRIL-DECEMBER 1817: WORK ON _ENDYMION_

  'Poems' fall flat--Reviews by Hunt and others--Change of
  publishers--New friends: Bailey and Woodhouse--Begins _Endymion_ at
  Carisbrooke--Moves to Margate--Hazlitt and Southey--Hunt and
  Haydon--Ambition and self-doubt--Stays at Canterbury--Joins brothers
  at Hampstead--Dilke and Brown--Visits Bailey at Oxford--Work on
  _Endymion_--Bailey's testimony--Talk on Wordsworth--Letters from
  Oxford--To his sister Fanny--To Jane and J.H. Reynolds--Return to
  Hampstead--Friends at loggerheads--Stays at Burford
  Bridge--Correspondence--Confessions--Speculations--Imagination and
  truth--Composes various lyrics--'O love me truly'--'In drear-nighted
  December'--Dryden and Swinburne--_Endymion_ finished--An Autumnal
  close--Return to Hampstead.


Keats's first volume had been launched, to quote the words of Cowden
Clarke, 'amid the cheers and fond anticipations of all his circle.
Everyone of us expected (and not unreasonably) that it would create a
sensation in the literary world.' The magniloquent Haydon words these
expectations after his manner:--'I have read your _Sleep and Poetry_--it
is a flash of lightning that will rouse men from their occupations and
keep them trembling for the crash of thunder that _will_ follow.'
Sonnets poured in on the occasion, and not from intimates only. I have
already quoted (p. 75) one which Reynolds, familiar with the contents of
the forthcoming book, wrote a few days before its publication to welcome
it and at the same time to congratulate Keats on his sonnet written in
Clarke's copy of the _Floure and the Lefe_. Leigh Hunt, always delighted
to repay compliment with compliment, replied effusively in kind to the
sonnet in which Keats had dedicated the volume to him. Richard
Woodhouse, of whom we shall soon hear more but who was as yet a
stranger, in the closing lines of a sonnet addressed to Apollo, welcomed
Keats as the last born son of that divinity and the herald of his return
to lighten the poetic darkness of the land:--

  Have these thy glories perish'd? or in scorn
    Of thankless man hath thy race ceased to quire?
  O no! thou hear'st! for lo! the beamèd morn
    Chases our night of song: and, from the lyre
  Waking long dormant sounds, Keats, thy last born,
    To the glad realm proclaims the coming of his sire.

Sonnets are not often addressed by publishers to their clients: but one
has been found in the handwriting of Charles Ollier, and almost
certainly composed by him, expressing admiration for Keats's work. The
brothers Ollier, it will be remembered, were Shelley's publishers, and
for a while also Leigh Hunt's and Lamb's, and Charles was the
poetry-loving and enthusiastic brother of the two, and himself a writer
of some accomplishment in prose and verse. But in point of fact, outside
the immediate Leigh Hunt circle, the volume made extremely little
impression, and the public was as far as possible from being roused from
its occupations or made tremble. 'Alas!' continues Cowden Clarke, 'the
book might have emerged in Timbuctoo with far stronger chance of fame
and appreciation. The whole community as if by compact, seemed
determined to know nothing about it.'

Clarke here somewhat exaggerates the facts. Leigh Hunt kept his own
review of the volume back for some three months, very likely with the
just idea that praise from him might prejudice Keats rather than serve
him. At length it appeared, in three numbers of the _Examiner_ for June
and July, the first number setting forth the aims and tendencies of the
new movement in poetry with a conscious clearness such as to those
taking part in a collective, three-parts instinctive effort of the kind
comes usually in retrospect only and not in the thick of the struggle.
In the second and third notices Hunt speaks of the old graces of poetry
reappearing, warns 'this young writer of genius' against
disproportionate detail and a too revolutionary handling of metre, and
after quotation winds up by calling the volume 'a little luxuriant heap
of

  Such sights as youthful poets dream
  On summer eves by haunted stream.'

Two at least of the established critical reviews noticed the book at
length, Constable's _Scots and Edinburgh Magazine_, and the _Eclectic
Review_, the chief organ of lettered nonconformity, owned and edited by
the busy dissenting poet and bookseller Josiah Conder. Both criticisms
are of the preaching and admonishing kind then almost universally in
fashion. The Scottish reviewer recognizes in the new poet a not wholly
unsuccessful disciple of Spenser, but warns him against 'the appalling
doom which awaits the faults of mannerism or the ambition of a sickly
refinement,' and with reference to his association with the person and
ideas of Hazlitt and Hunt declares that 'if Mr Keats does not forthwith
cast off the uncleanness of this school, he will never make his way to
the truest strain of poetry in which, taking him by himself, it appears
he might succeed.' The preachment of the _Eclectic_ is still more
pompous and superior. There are mild words of praise for some of the
sonnets, but none for that on Chapman's Homer. _Sleep and Poetry_,
declares the critic, would seem to show of the writer that 'he is indeed
far gone, beyond the reach of the efficacy of either praise or censure,
in affectation and absurdity. Seriously, however, we regret that a young
man of vivid imagination and fine talents should have fallen into so bad
hands as to have been flattered into the resolution to publish verses,
of which a few years hence he will be glad to escape from the
remembrance.'

Notices such as this could not help a new writer to fame or his book to
sale. But before they appeared Keats and his brothers, or they for him,
had begun to fret at the failure of the volume and to impute it, as
authors and their friends will, to some mishandling by the publishers.
George in John's absence wrote to the Olliers taking them to task pretty
roundly, and received the often-quoted reply drafted, let us hope, not
by the sonneteer but by James Ollier, his business brother, and alleging
of the work that--

  By far the greater number of persons who have purchased it from us
  have found fault with it in such plain terms, that we have in many
  cases offered to take it back rather than be annoyed with the ridicule
  which has, time after time, been showered upon it. In fact, it was
  only on Saturday last that we were under the mortification of having
  our own opinion of its merits flatly contradicted by a gentleman, who
  told us he considered it 'no better than a take in.'

Meanwhile Keats had found other publishers ready to take up his next
work, and destined to become his staunch and generous friends. These
were Messrs Taylor and Hessey of 93 Fleet Street. John Taylor, the chief
partner, was a man of high character and considerable attainments, who
had come up from Nottinghamshire to open a business in London ten years
earlier. He was already noted as an authority on Junius and was to be a
little later the editor as well as publisher of the _London Magazine_,
and the good friend and frequent entertainer (in the back parlour of the
publishing house in Fleet Street) of his most distinguished
contributors. How and through whom Keats was introduced to his firm is
not quite clear: probably through Benjamin Bailey, a new acquaintance
whom we know to have been a friend of Taylor's. Bailey was an Oxford man
five years older than Keats. He had been an undergraduate of Trinity and
was now staying up at Magdalen Hall to read for orders. He was an ardent
student of poetry and general literature as well as of theology, a
devout worshipper of Milton, and scarcely less of Wordsworth, with whom
he had some personal acquaintance. Of his appetite for books Keats wrote
when they had come to know each other well: 'I should not like to be
pages in your way; when in a tolerably hungry mood you have no mercy.
Your teeth are the Rock Tarpeian down which you capsize epic poems like
mad. I would not for forty shillings be Coleridge's Lays [i.e. _Lay
Sermons_] in your way.' Bailey was intimate with John Hamilton Reynolds
and his family, and at this time a suitor for the hand of his sister
Marianne. In the course of the winter 1816-17 Reynolds had written to
him enthusiastically of Keats's poetical promise and personal charm.
When at the beginning of March Keats's volume came out, Bailey was much
struck, and on a visit to London called to make the new poet's
acquaintance. Though it was not until a few months later that this
acquaintance ripened into close friendship, it may well have been Bailey
who recommended Keats and Taylor to each other.

Relations of business or friendship with Taylor necessarily involved
relations with Richard Woodhouse, a lettered and accomplished young
solicitor of twenty-nine who was an intimate friend of Taylor's and at
this time apparently the regular reader and adviser to the firm.
Woodhouse was sprung from an old landed stock in Herefordshire, some of
whose members were now in the wine-trade (his father, it seems, was
owner or part owner of the White Hart at Bath). He had been educated at
Eton but not at the university: his extant correspondence, as well as
notes and version-books in his hand, show him to have been a good
linguist in Spanish and Italian and a man of remarkably fine literary
taste and judgment. He afterwards held a high position as a solicitor
and was one of the founders of the Law Life Insurance Society.

These three new friendships, with Benjamin Bailey, John Taylor, and
Richard Woodhouse, formed during the six weeks between the publication
of his book (March 3) and the mid-April following, turned out to be
among the most valuable of Keats's life, and were the best immediate
results the issue of his first volume brought him. During this interval
he and his brothers were lodging at 17 Cheapside, having left their old
quarters in the Poultry. Some time in March it was decided, partly on
Haydon's urging, that John should for the sake of quiet and
self-improvement go and spend some time by himself in the country, and
try to get to work upon his great meditated _Endymion_ poem. He writes
as much to Reynolds, concluding with an adaptation from Falstaff
expressive of anxiety for the health of some of those dear to
him--probably his brother Tom and James Rice:--

  My brothers are anxious that I should go by myself into the
  country--they have always been extremely fond of me, and now that
  Haydon has pointed out how necessary it is that I should be alone to
  improve myself, they give up the temporary pleasure of living with me
  continually for a great good which I hope will follow. So I shall soon
  be out of Town. You must soon bring all your present troubles to a
  close, and so must I, but we must, like the Fox, prepare for a fresh
  swarm of flies. Banish money--Banish sofas--Banish Wine--Banish Music;
  but right Jack Health, honest Jack Health, true Jack Health--Banish
  Health and banish all the world.

On the 14th of April Keats took the night mail for Southampton, whence
he writes next day a lively letter to his brothers. By the 17th, having
looked at Shanklin and decided against it, he was installed in a lodging
at Carisbrooke. Writing to Reynolds he gives the reasons for his choice,
mentioning at the same time that he is feeling rather nervous from want
of sleep, and enclosing the admirable sonnet _On the Sea_ which he has
just composed--

  It keeps eternal whisperings around
  Desolate shores, etc.--

It was the intense haunting of the lines in the scene on Dover Cliff in
_King Lear_ beginning 'Do you not hear the sea,' which moved him, he
says, to this effort. He was reading and re-reading his Shakespeare with
passion, and phrases from the plays come up continually in his letters,
not only, as in the following extract, in the form of set quotations,
but currently, as though they were part of his own mind and being.
Having found in the lodging-house passage an engraved head of
Shakespeare which pleased him and hung it up in his room (his landlady
afterwards made him a present of it), he bethinks him of the approaching
anniversary, April 23:--

  I'll tell you what--on the 23d was Shakespeare born. Now if I should
  receive a letter from you, and another from my Brothers on that day
  'twould be a parlous good thing. Whenever you write say a word or two
  on some Passage in Shakespeare that may have come rather new to you,
  which must be continually happening, notwithstanding that we read the
  same Play forty times--for instance, the following from the Tempest
  never struck me so forcibly as at present,

                                            Urchins
    _Shall, for the vast of night that they may work_,
    All exercise on thee--

  How can I help bringing to your mind the line--

    In the dark backward and abysm of time.

  I find I cannot exist without Poetry--without eternal Poetry--half the
  day will not do--the whole of it--I began with a little, but habit has
  made me a Leviathan I had become all in a Tremble from not having
  written anything of late--the Sonnet over-leaf did me good. I slept
  the better last night for it--this Morning, however, I am nearly as
  bad again. Just now I opened Spenser, and the first Lines I saw were
  these--

    The noble heart that harbours virtuous thought,
    And is with child of glorious great intent,
    Can never rest until it forth have brought
    Th' eternal brood of glory excellent.

'I shall forthwith begin my _Endymion_,' he adds, and looks forward to
reading some of it out, when his correspondent comes to visit him, in a
nook near the castle which he has already marked for the purpose.

But Haydon's prescription of solitude turned out the worst Keats could
well have followed in the then state of his mind, fermenting with a
thousand restless thoughts and inchoate imaginations and with the
feverish conflict between ambition and self-distrust. The result at any
rate was that he passed the time, to use his own words, 'in continual
burning of thought, as an only resource,' and what with that and lack of
proper food felt himself after a week or ten days 'not over capable in
his upper stories' and in need of change and companionship. He made
straight for his last year's lodging at Margate and got Tom to join him
there. Thence in the second week of May he writes a long letter to Hunt
and another to Haydon. To Hunt he criticizes some points in the last
number of the _Examiner_, and especially, in his kind-hearted,
well-conditioned way, deprecates a certain vicious allusion to grey
hairs in an attack of Hazlitt upon Southey. Later on we shall have to
tell of the critical savagery of _Blackwood_ and the _Quarterly_, now
long since branded and proverbial. But it should be borne in mind, as it
by no means always is, that the Tories were far from having the savagery
to themselves. When Hazlitt, for one, chose to strike on the liberal
side, he could match Gifford or Lockhart or Wilson or Maginn with their
own weapons. To realize the controversial atmosphere of the time, here
is a passage, and not the fiercest, from the Hazlitt article in which
Keats found too venomous a sting. Southey's first love, rails Hazlitt,
had been the Republic, his second was Legitimacy, 'her more fortunate
and wealthy rival':--

  He is becoming uxorious in his second matrimonial connection; and
  though his false Duessa has turned out a very witch, a murderess, a
  sorceress, perjured, and a harlot, drunk with insolence, mad with
  power, a griping rapacious wretch, bloody, luxurious, wanton,
  malicious, not sparing steel, or poison, or gold, to gain her
  ends--bringing famine, pestilence, and death in her train--infecting
  the air with her thoughts, killing the beholders with her looks,
  claiming mankind as her property, and using them as her
  slaves--driving every thing before her, and playing the devil wherever
  she comes, Mr Southey sticks to her in spite of everything, and for
  very shame lays his head in her lap, paddles with the palms of her
  hands, inhales her hateful breath, leers in her eyes and whispers in
  her ears, calls her little fondling names, Religion, Morality, and
  Social Order, takes for his motto,

    Be to her faults a little blind,
    Be to her virtues very kind--

  sticks close to his filthy bargain, and will not give her up, because
  she keeps him, and he is down in her will. Faugh!

It is fair to note that the mistress thus depicted as Southey's is an
allegorical being, while the Blackwood scurrilities were often directly
personal.

After asking how Hunt's own new poem, _The Nymphs_, is getting on, Keats
tells how he has been writing some of _Endymion_ every day the last
fortnight, except travelling days, and how thoughts of the greatness of
his ambition and the uncertainty of his powers have thrown him into a
fit of gloom; hinting at such moods of bleak and blank despondency as we
shall find now and again figuratively described in the text of
_Endymion_ itself.

  I have asked myself so often why I should be a poet more than other
  men, seeing how great a thing it is,... that at last the idea has
  grown so monstrously beyond my seeming power of attainment that the
  other day I nearly consented with myself to drop into a Phaeton ... I
  see nothing but continual uphill journeying. Now is there anything
  more unpleasant than to be so journeying and to miss the goal at last?
  But I intend to whistle all those cogitations into the sea, where I
  hope they will breed storms enough to block up all exit from Russia.
  Does Shelley go on telling strange stories of the deaths of kings?[1]
  Tell him there are strange stories of the deaths of poets. Some have
  died before they were conceived.

The same evening Keats begins to answer a letter of encouragement and
advice he had just had from Haydon. This is the letter of Haydon's from
which I have already quoted the passage about the efficacy of prayer as
Haydon had experienced it. Perfectly sincere and genuinely moved, he can
never for a minute continuously steer clear of rant and fustian and
self-praise at another's expense.

  Never despair, he goes on, while the path is open to you. By habitual
  exercise you will have habitual intercourse and constant
  companionship; and at every want turn to the Great Star of your hopes
  with a delightful confidence that will never be disappointed. I love
  you like my own brother: Beware, for God's sake, of the delusions and
  sophistications that are ripping up the talents and morality of our
  friend.[2] He will go out of the world the victim of his own weakness
  and the dupe of his own self-delusions, with the contempt of his
  enemies and the sorrow of his friends, and the cause he undertook to
  support injured by his own neglect of character. I wish you would come
  up to town for a day or two that I may put your head in my picture. I
  have rubbed in Wordsworth's, and advanced the whole. God bless you, my
  dear Keats! do not despair; collect incident, study character, read
  Shakespeare, and trust in Providence, and you will do, you must.

Keats in answer quotes the opening speech of the King in _Love's
Labour's Lost_,--

  Let Fame, that all pant after in their lives
  Live registered upon our brazen tombs, etc.,

saying that he could not bear to think he had not the right to couple
his own name with Haydon's in such a forecast, and acknowledging the
occasional moods of depression which have put him into such a state of
mind as to read over his own lines and hate them, though he has picked
up heart again when he found some from Pope's Homer which Tom read out
to him seem 'like Mice' to his own. He takes encouragement also from the
notion that has visited him lately of some good genius--can it be
Shakespeare?--presiding over him. Continuing the next day, he is
downhearted again at hearing from George of money difficulties actual
and prospective. 'You tell me never to despair--I wish it was as easy
for me to deserve the saying--truth is I have a horrid morbidity of
Temperament which has shown itself at intervals it is I have no doubt
the greatest Enemy and stumbling block I have to fear--I may even say it
is likely to be the cause of my disappointment.' Then referring to
Haydon's warning in regard to Hunt, he goes half way in agreement and
declares he would die rather than be deceived about his own achievements
as Hunt is. 'There is no greater sin after the seven deadly,' he says,
'than to flatter oneself into the idea of being a great poet: the
comfort is, such a crime must bring its own penalty, and if one is a
self-deluder indeed accounts must one day be balanced.'

In the same week, moved no doubt by the difficulties George had
mentioned about touching the funds due from their grandmother's estate,
Keats writes to Taylor and Hessey, in a lively and familiar strain
showing the terms of confidence on which he already stood with them,
asking them to advance him an instalment of the agreed price for
_Endymion_. He mentions in this letter that he is tired of Margate (he
had already to another correspondent called it a 'treeless affair') and
means to move to Canterbury. At this point there occurs an unlucky gap
in Keats's correspondence. We know that he and Tom went to Canterbury
from Margate as planned, but we do not know exactly when, nor how long
he stayed there, nor what work he did (except that he was certainly
going on with the first book of _Endymion_), nor what impressions he
received. It was his first visit to a cathedral city, and few in the
world, none in England, are more fitted to impress. Chichester and
Winchester he came afterwards to know, Winchester well and with
affection; but it was with thoughts of Canterbury in his mind that he
planned, some two years later, first a serious and then a frivolous
verse romance having an English cathedral town for scene (_The Eve of St
Mark_, _The Cap and Bells_). The heroine of both was to have been a
maiden of Canterbury called Bertha; not, of course, the historic
Frankish princess Bertha, daughter of Haribert and wife of Ethelbert
king of Kent, who converted her husband and prepared his people for
Christianity before the landing of Saint Augustin, and who sleeps in the
ancient church of Saint Martin outside the walls: not she, but some
damsel of the city, named after her in later days, whom Keats had heard
or read of or invented,--I would fain know which; but I have found no
external evidence of his studies or doings during this spring stay at
Canterbury, and his correspondence is, as I have said, a blank.

Some time in June he returned and the three brothers were together
again: not now in City lodgings but in new quarters to which they had
migrated in Well Walk, Hampstead. Their landlord was one Bentley the
postman, with whom they seem to have got on well except that Keats
occasionally complains of the 'young carrots,' his children, now for
making a 'horrid row,' now for smelling of damp worsted stockings. The
lack of letters continues through these first summer months at
Hampstead. The only exception is a laughingly apologetic appeal to his
new publishers for a further advance of money, dated June 10th and
ending with the words,--'I am sure you are confident of my
responsibility, and of the sense of squareness that is always in me.'
For the rest, indirect evidence allows us to picture Keats in these
months as working regularly at _Endymion_, having now reached the second
book, and as living socially, not without a certain amount of convivial
claret-drinking and racket, in the company of his brothers and of his
friends and theirs. Leigh Hunt was still close by in the Vale of Health,
and both in his circle and in Haydon's London studio Keats was as
welcome as ever. Reynolds and Rice were still his close intimates, and
Reynolds's sisters in Lamb's Conduit Street almost like sisters of his
own. He was scarcely less at home in the family of his sister-in-law
that was to be, Georgiana Wylie. The faithful Severn and the faithful
Haslam came up eagerly whenever they could to join the Hampstead party.
An acquaintance he had already formed at Hunt's with the Charles Dilkes
and their friend Charles Brown, who lived as next-door neighbours at
Wentworth Place, a double block of houses of their own building in a
garden at the foot of the Heath, now ripened into friendship: that with
Dilke rapidly, that with Brown, a Scotsman who by his own account held
cannily aloof from Keats at first for fear of being thought to push,
more slowly.

Charles Wentworth Dilke, by profession a clerk in the Navy Pay Office,
by predilection a keen and painstaking literary critic and antiquary,
had been stimulated by the charm of Lamb's famous volume of _Specimens_
to work at the old English dramatic poets, and had recently (being now
twenty-seven) brought out a set of volumes in continuation of Dodsley's
_Old Plays_. In matters political and social he was something of a
radical doctrinaire and 'Godwin-perfectibility man' (the label is
Keats's), loving decision and positiveness in all things and being
therein the very opposite of Keats, who by rooted instinct as well as
choice allowed his mind to cherish uncertainties and to be a
thoroughfare for all thoughts (the phrase is again his own). There were
many but always friendly discussions between Keats and Dilke, and their
mutual regard never failed. Charles Brown, Dilke's contemporary,
schoolfellow, and close friend, was a man of Scottish descent born in
Lambeth, who had in early youth joined a business set up by an elder
brother in Petersburg. The business quickly failing, he had returned to
London and after some years of struggle inherited a modest competence
from another brother. A lively, cultivated, moderately successful
amateur in literature, journalism, and drama, he was in person bald and
spectacled, and portly beyond his years though active and robust; in
habits much of a trencher-man ('a huge eater' according to the
abstemious Trelawny) and something of a _viveur_ within his means;
exactly strict in money matters, but otherwise far from a precisian in
life or conversation; an ardent friend and genial companion, though
cherishing some fixed unreasonable aversions: in a word, a truly
Scottish blend of glowing warm-heartedness and 'thrawn' prejudice, of
frank joviality and cautious dealing.

It was in these same weeks of June or July 1817, soon after the
beginning of the Oxford vacation, that Benjamin Bailey again came to
town and sought after and learned to delight in Keats's company. He
meant to go back and read at Oxford for the latter part of the vacation,
and invited Keats to spend some weeks with him there. Keats accepted,
and the visit, lasting from soon after mid August until the end of
September, proved a happiness alike to host and guest. At this point
our dearth of documents ceases. Bailey's memoranda, though not put on
paper till thirty years later, are vivid and informing, and Keats's own
correspondence during the visit is fairly full. I will take Bailey's
recollections first, and give them in his own words, seeing that they
paint the writer almost as well as his subject; omitting only passages
that seem to drag or interrupt. First comes the impression Keats made on
him at the time of their introduction in the spring, and then his
account of the days they spent together in Oxford.

  I was delighted with the naturalness and simplicity of his character,
  and was at once drawn to him by his winning and indeed affectionate
  manner towards those with whom he was himself pleased. Nor was his
  personal appearance the least charm of a first acquaintance with the
  young poet. He bore, along with the strong impress of genius, much
  beauty of feature and countenance. His hair was beautiful--a fine
  brown, rather than auburn, I think, and if you placed your hand upon
  his head, the silken curls felt like the rich plumage of a bird. The
  eye was full and fine, and softened into tenderness, or beamed with a
  fiery brightness, according to the current of his thoughts and
  conversation. Indeed the form of his head was like that of a fine
  Greek statue:--and he realized to my mind the youthful Apollo, more
  than any head of a living man whom I have known.

  At the commencement of the long vacation I was again in London, on my
  way to another part of the country: and it was my intention to return
  to Oxford early in the vacation for the purpose of reading. I saw much
  of Keats. And I invited him to return with me to Oxford, and spend as
  much time as he could afford with me in the silence and solitude of
  that beautiful place during the absence of the numerous members and
  students of the University. He accepted my offer, and we returned
  together. I think in August 1817. It was during this visit, and in my
  room, that he wrote the third book of _Endymion_.... His mode of
  composition is best described by recounting our habits of study for
  one day during the month he visited me at Oxford. He wrote, and I
  read, sometimes at the same table, and sometimes at separate desks or
  tables, from breakfast to the time of our going out for
  exercise,--generally two or three o'clock. He sat down to his
  task,--which was about 50 lines a day,--with his paper before him, and
  wrote with as much regularity, and apparently as much ease, as he
  wrote his letters.... Sometimes he fell short of his allotted task,
  but not often: and he would make it up another day. But he never
  forced himself. When he had finished his writing for the day, he
  usually read it over to me: and he read or wrote letters until we went
  for a walk. This was our habit day by day. The rough manuscript was
  written off daily, and with few erasures.

  I remember very distinctly, though at this distance of time, his
  reading of a few passages; and I almost think I hear his voice, and
  see his countenance. Most vivid is my recollection of the following
  passage of the finest affecting story of the old man, Glaucus, which
  he read to me immediately after its composition:--

    The old man raised his hoary head and saw
    The wildered stranger--seeming not to see,
    The features were so lifeless. Suddenly
    He woke as from a trance; his snow white brows
    Went arching up, _and like two magic ploughs
    Furrowed deep wrinkles in his forehead large,
    Which kept as fixedly as rocky marge,
    Till round his withered lips had gone a smile._

  The lines I have italicised, are those which then forcibly struck me
  as peculiarly fine, and to my memory have 'kept as fixedly as rocky
  marge.' I remember his upward look when he read of the 'magic
  ploughs,' which in his hands have turned up so much of the rich soil
  of Fairyland.

  When we had finished our studies for the day we took our walk, and
  sometimes boated on the Isis.... Once we took a longer excursion of a
  day or two, to Stratford upon Avon, to visit the birthplace of
  Shakespeare. We went of course to the house visited by so many
  thousands of all nations of Europe, and inscribed our names in
  addition to the 'numbers numberless' of those which literally
  blackened the walls. We also visited the Church, and were pestered
  with a commonplace showman of the place.... He was struck, I remember,
  with the simple statue there, which, though rudely executed, we agreed
  was most probably the best likeness of the many extant, but none very
  authentic, of Shakespeare.

  His enjoyment was of that genuine, quiet kind which was a part of his
  gentle nature; deeply feeling what he truly enjoyed, but saying
  little. On our return to Oxford we renewed our quiet mode of life,
  until he finished the third Book of _Endymion_, and the time came that
  we must part; and I never parted with one whom I had known so short a
  time, with so much real regret and personal affection, as I did with
  John Keats, when he left Oxford for London at the end of September
  or the beginning of October 1817.

  [Illustration: PL. IV

  _Life-mask of Keats

  From an electrotype in the National Portrait Gallery_]

  Living as we did for a month or six weeks together (for I do not
  remember exactly how long) I knew him at that period of his life,
  perhaps as well as any one of his friends. There was no reserve of any
  kind between us.... His brother George says of him that to his
  brothers his temper was uncertain; and he himself confirms this
  judgment of him in a beautiful passage of a letter to myself. But with
  his friends, a sweeter tempered man I never knew. Gentleness was
  indeed his proper characteristic, without one particle of dullness, or
  insipidity, or want of spirit. Quite the contrary. 'He was gentle but
  not fearful,' in the chivalric and moral sense of the term 'gentle.'
  He was pleased with every thing that occurred in the ordinary mode of
  life, and a cloud never passed over his face, except of indignation at
  the wrongs of others.

  His conversation was very engaging. He had a sweet toned voice, 'an
  excellent thing' in _man_ as well as 'in woman....' In his letters he
  talks of _suspecting_ everybody. It appeared not in his conversation.
  On the contrary, he was uniformly the apologist for poor, frail human
  nature, and allowed for people's faults more than any man I ever knew,
  especially for the faults of his friends. But if any act of wrong or
  oppression, of fraud or falsehood, was the topic, he rose into sudden
  and animated indignation. He had a truly poetic feeling for women; and
  he often spoke to me of his sister, who was somehow withholden from
  him, with great delicacy and tenderness of affection. He had a soul of
  noble integrity: and his common sense was a conspicuous part of his
  character. Indeed his character was in the best sense manly.

  Our conversation rarely or never flagged, during our walks, or
  boatings, or in the evening. And I have retained a few of his opinions
  on Literature and criticism which I will detail. The following passage
  from Wordsworth's Ode on Immortality was deeply felt by Keats, who
  however at this time seemed to me to value this great Poet rather in
  particular passages than in the full-length portrait, as it were, of
  the great imaginative and philosophic Christian Poet, which he really
  is, and which Keats obviously, not long afterwards, felt him to be.

        Not for these I raise
    The song of thanks and praise;
    But for those obstinate questionings
    Of sense and outward things,
    Fallings from us, vanishings;
    Blank misgivings of a creature
    Moving about in worlds not realized,
    _High instincts, before which our mortal nature_
    Did tremble like a guilty thing surprized.

  The last lines he thought were quite awful in their application to a
  guilty finite creature, like man, in the appalling nature of the
  feeling which they suggested to a thoughtful mind. Again, we often
  talked of that noble passage in the lines on _Tintern Abbey_:--

                       That blessed mood,
    In which _the burthen of the mystery_,
    In which the heavy and the weary weight
    Of all this unintelligible world
    Is lightened.

  And his references to this passage are frequent in his letters.--But
  in those exquisite stanzas,

    She dwelt among the untrodden ways,
    Beside the springs of Dove,

  ending,--

    She lived unknown and few could know
    When Lucy ceased to be;
    But she is in her grave, and oh,
    _The difference to me_.

  The simplicity of the last line he declared to be the most perfect
  pathos.

  Among the qualities of high poetic promise in Keats was, even at this
  time, his correct taste. I remember to have been struck with this by
  his remarks on that well known and often quoted passage of the
  _Excursion_ upon the Greek Mythology--where it is said that

                              Fancy fetched
    Even from the blazing chariot of the Sun
    A beardless youth who touched a golden lute,
    _And filled the illumined groves with ravishment_.

  Keats said this description of Apollo should have ended at the 'golden
  lute,' and have left it to the imagination to complete the picture,
  _how_ he 'filled the illumined groves.' I think every man of taste
  will feel the justice of the remark.

  Every one now knows what was then known to his friends that Keats was
  an ardent admirer of Chatterton. The melody of the verses of the
  marvellous Boy who perished in his pride, enchanted the author of
  _Endymion_. Methinks I now hear him recite, or _chant_, in his
  peculiar manner, the following stanza of the Roundelay sung by the
  minstrels of Ella:--

    _Come with acorn cup and thorn_
    Drain my hertys blood away;
    Life and all its good I scorn;
    Dance by night or feast by day.

  The first line to his ear possessed the great charm. Indeed his sense
  of melody was quite exquisite, as is apparent in his own verses; and
  in none more than in numerous passages of his _Endymion_.

  Another object of his enthusiastic admiration was the Homeric
  character of Achilles--especially when he is described as 'shouting in
  the trenches.' One of his favourite topics of discourse was the
  principle of melody in verse, upon which he had his own notions,
  particularly in the management of open and close vowels. I think I
  have seen a somewhat similar theory attributed to Mr Wordsworth. But I
  do not remember his laying it down in writing. Be this as it may,
  Keats's theory was worked out by himself. It was, that the vowels
  should be so managed as not to clash one with another, so as to hear
  the melody,--and yet that they should be interchanged, like differing
  notes of music to prevent monotony....[3]

Bailey here tries to reconstruct and illustrate from memory Keats's
theory of vowel sounds, but his attempt falters and breaks down.

Keats's own first account of himself from Oxford is in a letter of
September 5th to the Reynolds sisters, then on holiday at Littlehampton:
a piece of mere lively foolery and rattle meant to amuse, in a taste
which is not that of to-day. Five days later he writes the first of that
series of letters to his young sister Fanny which acquaints us with
perhaps the most loveable and admirable parts of his character. She was
now just fourteen, and living under the close guardianship of the
Abbeys, who had put her to a boarding school at Walthamstow. Keats shows
a tender and considerate elder-brotherly anxiety to get into touch with
her and know her feelings and likings:--

  Let us now begin a regular question and answer--a little pro and con;
  letting it interfere as a pleasant method of my coming at your
  favourite little wants and enjoyments, that I may meet them in a way
  befitting a brother.

  We have been so little together since you have been able to reflect on
  things that I know not whether you prefer the _History of King Pepin_
  to Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_--or _Cinderella_ and her glass
  slipper to Moor's _Almanack_. However in a few Letters I hope I shall
  be able to come at that and adapt my scribblings to your Pleasure. You
  must tell me about all you read if it be only six Pages in a Week and
  this transmitted to me every now and then will procure full sheets of
  Writing from me pretty frequently.--This I feel as a necessity for we
  ought to become intimately acquainted, in order that I may not only,
  as you grow up love you as my only Sister, but confide in you as my
  dearest friend. When I saw you last I told you of my intention of
  going to Oxford and 'tis now a Week since I disembark'd from his
  Whipship's Coach the Defiance in this place. I am living in Magdalen
  Hall on a visit to a young Man with whom I have not been long
  acquainted, but whom I like very much--we lead very industrious
  lives--he in general Studies and I in proceeding at a pretty good rate
  with a Poem which I hope you will see early in the next year.--Perhaps
  you might like to know what I am writing about. I will tell you. Many
  Years ago there was a young handsome Shepherd who fed his flocks on a
  Mountain's Side called Latmus he was a very contemplative sort of a
  Person and lived solitary among the trees and Plains little thinking
  that such a beautiful Creature as the Moon was growing mad in Love
  with him.--However so it was; and when he was asleep on the Grass she
  used to come down from heaven and admire him excessively for a long
  time; and at last could not refrain from carrying him away in her arms
  to the top of that high Mountain Latmus while he was a dreaming--but I
  dare say you have read this and all the other beautiful Tales which
  have come down from the ancient times of that beautiful Greece. If you
  have not let me know and I will tell you more at large of others quite
  as delightful. This Oxford I have no doubt is the finest City in the
  world--it is full of old Gothic
  buildings--Spires--towers--Quadrangles--Cloisters--Groves etc and is
  surrounded with more clear streams than ever I saw together. I take a
  Walk by the Side of one of them every Evening and, thank God, we have
  not had a drop of rain these days.

He goes on to tell her (herein echoing Hunt's opinion) how much better
it would be if Italian instead of French were taught everywhere in
schools, and winds up:--

  Now Fanny you must write soon--and write all you think about, never
  mind what--only let me have a good deal of your writing--You need not
  do it all at once--be two or three or four days about it, and let it
  be a diary of your Life. You will preserve all my Letters and I will
  secure yours--and thus in the course of time we shall each of us have
  a good Bundle--which, hereafter, when things may have strangely
  altered and God knows what happened, we may read over together and
  look with pleasure on times past--that now are to come.

Next follows another letter to Jane Reynolds; partly making fun, much
better fun than in the last, about Dilke's shooting and about the rare
havoc he would like to make in Mrs Dilke's garden were he at Hampstead:
partly grave in the high style into which he is apt at any moment to
change from nonsense:--

  Now let us turn to the sea-shore. Believe me, my dear Jane, it is a
  great happiness to see that you are, in this finest part of the year,
  winning a little enjoyment from the hard world. In truth, the great
  Elements we know of, are no means comforters: the open sky sits upon
  our senses like a sapphire crown--the Air is our robe of state--the
  Earth is our throne and the Sea a mighty minstrel playing before
  it--able, like David's harp, to make such a one as you forget almost
  the tempest cares of life. I have found in the ocean's music,--varying
  (tho' self-same) more than the passion of Timotheus, an enjoyment not
  to be put into words; and, 'though inland far I be,' I now hear the
  voice most audibly while pleasing myself in the idea of your
  sensations.

To Reynolds Keats writes on September the 21st:--

  For these last five or six days, we have had regularly a Boat on the
  Isis, and explored all the streams about, which are more in number
  than your eye-lashes. We sometimes skim into a Bed of rushes, and
  there become naturalized river-folks,--there is one particularly nice
  nest, which we have christened 'Reynolds's Cove,' in which we have
  read Wordsworth, and talked as may be; I think I see you and Hunt
  meeting in the Pit.--What a very pleasant fellow he is, if he would
  give up the sovereignty of a room pro bono. What evenings we might
  pass with him, could we have him from Mrs H. Failings I am always
  rather rejoiced to find in a man than sorry for; they bring us to a
  level.

Then follows a diatribe against the literary and intellectual
pretensions of certain sets of ladies, from which he has felt an
agreeable relief in some verses he has found on taking down from
Bailey's shelves the poems of Katherine Philips, 'the matchless Orinda.'
The verses which pleased him, truly of her best, are those _To M. A. at
parting_, and Keats goes on to copy them in full. Had Orinda been a
contemporary, he might not, indeed, have failed to recognize in her a
true woman of letters: but would he not also have found something to
laugh and chafe at in the poses of that high-flying coterie of mutual
admirers, Silvander and Poliarchus, Lucasia and Rosania and Palæmon, of
which she was the centre? This is one of the very few instances to be
found in Keats's work or correspondence of interest in the poetry of the
Caroline age.

Quite in the last days of his visit Keats, whose mind and critical power
had been growing while he worked upon _Endymion_, and whom moreover the
long effort of composition was clearly beginning to fatigue, confides to
Haydon his dissatisfaction with what he has done:--'You will be glad to
hear that within these last three weeks I have written 1000 lines--which
are the third Book of my Poem. My Ideas with respect to it I assure you
are very low--and I would write the subject thoroughly again--but I am
tired of it and think the time would be better spent in writing a new
Romance which I have in my eye for next summer--Rome was not built in a
day--and all the good I expect from my employment this summer is the
fruit of Experience which I hope to gather in my next Poem.'

Coming back in the first week of October to Hampstead, whither his
brothers had by this time also returned from a trip to Paris, Keats was
presently made uncomfortable by evidences of discord among his friends
and reports of what seemed like disloyalty on the part of one of them,
Leigh Hunt, to himself. Haydon had now left the studio in Great
Marlborough Street for one in Lisson Grove, and the Hunts, having come
away from Hampstead and paid a long late-summer visit to the Shelleys at
Marlow, were lodging near him in the same street. 'Everybody seems at
loggerheads,' Keats writes to Bailey. 'There's Hunt infatuated--there's
Haydon's picture in statu quo--There's Hunt walks up and down his
painting-room--criticizing every head most unmercifully.' Both Haydon
and Reynolds, he goes on, keep telling him tales of Hunt: How Hunt has
been talking flippantly and patronizingly of _Endymion_, saying that if
it is four thousand lines long now it would have been seven thousand but
for him, and giving the impression that Keats stood to him in the
relation of a pupil needing and taking advice. He declares in
consequence that he is quite disgusted with literary men and will never
know another except Wordsworth; and then, more coolly and sensibly,
'now, is not this a most paltry thing to think about?... This is, to be
sure, the vexation of a day, nor would I say so many words about it to
any but those whom I know to have my welfare and reputation at heart.'

During the six or seven autumn weeks spent at Hampstead after his return
from Oxford Keats was getting on, a little flaggingly, with the fourth
book of _Endymion_, besides writing an occasional lyric or two. Fresh
from the steadying and sympathetic companionship of Bailey, he keeps up
their intimacy by affectionate letters in which he discloses much of
that which lay deepest and was best in him. Writing in the first days of
November he congratulates Bailey on having got a curacy in Cumberland
and promises some day to visit him there; says he is in a fair way to
have finished _Endymion_ in three weeks; mentions an idea he has of
shipping his brother Tom, who has been looking worse, off to Lisbon for
the winter and perhaps going with him; and gets in by a side wind a
masterly criticism of Wordsworth's poem _The Gipsies_ and also of
Hazlitt's criticism of it in the _Round Table_. A fragment of another
letter, dated November the 5th, alludes with annoyance, not for the
first time, to some failure of Haydon's to keep his word or take trouble
about a young man from Oxford named Cripps whom he had promised to
receive as pupil and in whom Bailey and Keats were interested. The same
fragment records the appearance in _Blackwood_ (the _Endinburgh
Magazine_, as Keats calls it) of the famous first article of the Cockney
School series, attacking Hunt with a virulence far beyond even the
accustomed licence of the time, and seeming by the motto prefixed to it
(verses of Cornelius Webb coupling the names of Hunt and Keats) to
threaten a similar handling of Keats later on. 'I don't mind the thing
much,' says Keats, 'but if he should go to such lengths with me as he
has done with Hunt, I must infallibly call him to an Account if he be a
human being, and appears in Squares and Theatres, where we might
possibly meet--I don't relish his abuse.'

Some time about mid-November Keats, his health and strength being
steadier than in the spring, felt himself in the mood for a few weeks of
solitude and went to spend them at Burford Bridge Inn, in the beautiful
vale of Mickleham between Leatherhead and Dorking. The outing, he wrote,
was intended 'to change the scene--change the air---and give me a spur
to wind up my poem, of which there are wanting 500 lines.' Keats dearly
loved a valley: he loved even the sound of the names denoting one. In
his marginal notes to a copy of _Paradise Lost_ he gave a friend we find
the following:--


              'Or have ye chosen this place
    After the toil of battle to repose
    Your wearied virtue, for the ease you find
    To slumber here, as in the vales of Heaven?'

  There is cool pleasure in the very sound of vale. The English word is
  of the happiest chance. Milton has put vales in heaven and hell with
  the very utter affection and yearning of a great Poet. It is a sort of
  Delphic Abstraction--a beautiful thing made more beautiful by being
  reflected and put in a Mist. The next mention of Vale is one of the
  most pathetic in the whole range of Poetry:--

                  'Others, more mild,
    Retreated in a silent valley, sing
    With notes angelical to many a harp
    Their own heroic deeds and hapless fall
    By doom of battle.'

  How much of the charm is in the valley!

There, from his inmost self, speaks a poet of another poet, and as if to
and for poets, deep calling unto deep. But in his every-day vein of
speech or writing Keats was always reticent in regard to the scenery of
places he visited, disliking nothing more than the glib ecstasies of the
tourist in search of the picturesque. When he has looked round him in
his new quarters at Burford Bridge he says simply, writing to Reynolds
on November the 22nd, 'I like this place very much. There is Hill and
Dale and a little river. I went up Box Hill this evening after the
moon--"you a' seen the Moon"--came down and wrote some lines.' 'Whenever
I am separated from you,' he continues, 'and not engaged in a continuous
Poem, every letter shall bring you a lyric--but I am too anxious for you
to enjoy the whole to send you a particle:' the whole, that is, of
_Endymion_. The sequel shows him to be just as deep and ardent in the
study of Shakespeare as when he was beginning his poem at Carisbrooke in
the spring. 'I never found so many beauties in the Sonnets--they seem to
be full of fine things said unintentionally--in the intensity of working
out conceits:' and he goes on to quote passages and phrases both from
them and from _Venus and Adonis_. Next, with a sudden change of mind
about letting Reynolds see a sample of _Endymion_, 'By the Whim-King!
I'll give you a stanza, because it is not material in connexion, and
when I wrote it I wanted you to give your vote, pro or con.'--The stanza
he gives is from the song of the Constellations in the fourth book,
certainly one of the weakest things in the poem: pity Reynolds had not
been there indeed, to give his vote _contra_.

On the same day, November 22, Keats writes to Bailey a letter even
richer in contents and more self-revealing than this to Reynolds. It
gives the indispensable key both to much in his own character and much
of the deeper speculative and symbolic meanings underlying his work,
from _Endymion_ to the _Ode on a Grecian Urn_. Beginning with a wise and
tolerant reference to the Haydon trouble, and throwing out a passing
hint of the distinction between men of Genius, who have not, and men of
Power, who have, a proper individual self or determined character of
their own, Keats passes at the close to an illuminating self-confession
which is also a contrast between himself and his correspondent:--

  You perhaps at one time thought there was such a thing as worldly
  happiness to be arrived at, at certain periods of time marked
  out,--you have of necessity from your disposition been thus led
  away--I scarcely remember counting upon any happiness--I look not for
  it if it be not in the present hour,--nothing startles me beyond the
  moment. The Setting Sun will always set me to rights, or if a Sparrow
  come before my Window, I take part in its existence and pick about the
  gravel. The first thing that strikes me on hearing a misfortune having
  befallen another is this--'Well, it cannot be helped: he will have the
  pleasure of trying the resources of his Spirit'--and I beg now, my
  dear Bailey, that hereafter should you observe anything cold in me not
  to put it to the account of heartlessness, but abstraction--for I
  assure you I sometimes feel not the influence of a passion or
  affection during a whole Week--and so long this sometimes continues, I
  begin to suspect myself, and the genuineness of my feelings at other
  times--thinking them a few barren Tragedy Tears.

Readers of _Endymion_ will recognize a symbolic embodiment of a mood
akin to this in the Cave of Quietude in the fourth book. But the great
value of the letter, especially great as a help to the study of
_Endymion_ in general, is in the long central passage setting forth his
speculations as to the relation of imagination to truth, meaning truth
ultimate or transcendental. He finds his clue in the eighth book of
_Paradise Lost_, where Adam, recounting to Raphael his first experiences
as new-created man, tells how twice over he fell into a dream and awoke
to find it true: his first dream thus confirmed in the result being how
'One of shape divine' took him by the hand and led him into the garden
of Paradise:[4] his second, how the same glorious shape came to him and
opened his side and from his rib fashioned a creature:

  Manlike, but different sex, so lovely fair,
  That what seem'd fair in all the World, seem'd now
  Mean, or in her sum'd up, in her contain'd
  And in her looks, which from that time infus'd
  Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before,
  And into all things from her Air inspir'd
  The spirit of love and amorous delight.
  She disappear'd, and left me dark, I wak'd
  To find her, or for ever to deplore
  Her loss, and other pleasures all abjure:
  When out of hope, behold her, not far off,
  Such as I saw her in my dream, adorn'd
  With what all Earth or Heaven could bestow
  To make her amiable.[5]

It was no doubt this second of Adam's dreams that was chiefly in Keats's
mind. His way of explaining his speculations to his friend is quite
unstudied and inconsecutive; he is, as he says, 'continually running
away from the subject,' or shall we say letting the stream of his ideas
branch out into side channels from which he finds it difficult to come
back? But yet their main current and purport will be found not difficult
to follow, if only the reader will bear one thing well in mind: that
when Keats in this and similar passages speaks of 'Sensations' as
opposed to 'Thoughts' he does not limit the word to sensations of the
body, of what intensity or exquisiteness soever or howsoever
instantaneously transforming themselves from sensation into emotion:
what he means are intuitions of the mind and spirit as immediate as
these, as thrillingly convincing and indisputable, as independent of all
consecutive stages and formal processes of thinking: almost the same
things, indeed, as in a later passage of the same letter he calls
'ethereal musings.' And now let the poet speak for himself:--

  O! I wish I was as certain of the end of all your troubles as that of
  your momentary start about the authenticity of the Imagination. I am
  certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections, and
  the truth of Imagination. What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must
  be Truth--whether it existed before or not,--for I have the same idea
  of all our passions as of Love: they are all, in their sublime,
  creative of essential Beauty. In a Word you may know my favourite
  speculation by my first Book, and the little Song I sent in my last,
  which is a representation from the fancy of the probable mode of
  operating in these Matters. The Imagination may be compared to Adam's
  dream, he awoke and found it truth:--I am more zealous in this affair,
  because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be
  known for truth by consecutive reasoning--and yet it must be. Can it
  be that even the greatest Philosopher ever arrived at his Goal without
  putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a life of
  Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is 'a Vision in the form of
  Youth,' a shadow of reality to come--and this consideration has
  further convinced me,--for it has come as auxiliary to another
  favourite speculation of mine,--that we shall enjoy ourselves
  hereafter by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a
  finer tone. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in
  Sensation, rather than hunger as you do after Truth. Adam's dream will
  do here, and seems to be a Conviction that Imagination and its
  empyreal reflexion, is the same as human life and its spiritual
  repetition. But, as I was saying, the simple imaginative Mind may have
  its rewards in the repetition of its own silent Working coming
  continually on the Spirit with a fine Suddenness. To compare great
  things with small, have you never, by being surprised with an old
  Melody, in a delicious place by a delicious voice, _felt_ over again
  your very speculations and surmises at the time it first operated on
  your soul? Do you not remember forming to yourself the Singer's
  face--more beautiful than it was possible, and yet, with the elevation
  of the Moment, you did not think so? Even then you were mounted on the
  Wings of Imagination, so high that the prototype must be
  hereafter--that delicious face you will see.

There is one sentence in the above which gives us special matter for
regret. Keats speaks of 'the little Song I sent in my last, which is a
representation from the fancy of the probable mode of operating in these
matters.' Such a song, if we had it, would doubtless put forth clearly
and melodiously in concrete imagery the ideas which Keats in his letter
tries to expound in the abstract language of which he is by nature so
much less a master. Of 'my last,' that is of his preceding letter to
Bailey, unhappily but a fragment is preserved, and the song must have
been lost with the sheet or sheets which went astray, seeing that none
of Keats's preserved lyrics can be held to answer to his account of this
one. His words have a further interest as proving that now in these days
of approaching winter, with his long poem almost finished, he allowed
himself to digress into some lyric experiments, as in its earlier stages
he had not done. External testimony and reasonable inference enable us
to identify some of these experiments. Two or three lightish
love-lyrics, whether impersonal or inspired by passing adventures of his
own, are among the number. That beginning 'Think not of it, sweet one,
so,' dates definitely from November 11, before he left Hampstead. To
nearly about the same time belongs almost certainly the very daintily
finished stanzas 'Unfelt, unheard, unseen,' which one at least of
Keats's subtlest critics[6] considers (I cannot agree with her) the
first of his technically faultless achievements. So also, I am
convinced, does that much less happily wrought thing, the little
love-plaint discovered only two years ago and beginning--

  You say you love, but with a voice
    Chaster than a nun's who singeth
  The soft vespers to herself
    When the chime-bell ringeth--
        O love me truly!

  You say you love; but with a smile
    Cold as sunrise in September,
  As you were St Cupid's nun,
    And kept his week of Ember.
        O love me truly!--

and so forth. Here again, it seems evident, we have an instance of an
echo from one of the old Elizabethan poets (this time an anonymous
song-writer) lingering like a chime in Keats's memory. Listen to the
first three stanzas of _A Proper Wooing Song_, written to the tune of
the _Merchant's Daughter_ and printed in Clement Robinson's _Handful of
Pleasant Delites_, 1584:--

  Maide will ye loue me yea or no?
    tell me the trothe and let me go.
  It can be no lesse than a sinful deed,
    trust me truly,
  To linger a Louer that lookes to speede,
    in due time duly.

  You maides that thinke yourselves as fine,
    as Venus and all the Muses nine:
  The Father Himselfe when He first made man,
    trust me truly,
  Made you for his helpe when the world began,
    in due time duly.

  Then sith God's will was even so
    why should you disdaine your Louer tho?
  But rather with a willing heart,
    loue him truly;
  For in so doing you do your part
    let reason rule ye.

The metrical form of Keats's verses is not, indeed, the same as that of
the Elizabethan song, but I think he must certainly have had the cadence
of its refrains more or less consciously in his mind's ear.[7]

A definite and dated case of a lyrical experiment suggested to Keats at
this time by an older model is the famous little 'drear-nighted
December' song in which he re-embodies, with new and seasonable imagery,
the ancient moral of the misery added to misery by the remembrance of
past happiness. This was composed, as Woodhouse on the express testimony
of Jane Reynolds informs us, in the beginning of this same December,
1817, when Keats was finishing _Endymion_ at Burford Bridge. Any reader
familiar with the aspect of the spot at that season, when the
overhanging trees have shed their last gold, and spars of ice have begun
to fringe the sluggish meanderings of the Mole, will realize how deeply
the sentiment of the scene and season has sunk into Keats's verse. Well
as the piece is known, I shall quote it entire, not in the form in which
it is printed in the editions, but in that in which alone it exists in
his own hand-writing and in the transcripts by his friends Woodhouse and
Brown[8]:--

  In drear-nighted December,
    Too happy, happy tree,
  Thy branches ne'er remember
    Their green felicity:
  The north cannot undo them,
  With a sleety whistle through them;
  Nor frozen thawings glue them
    From budding at the prime.

  In drear-nighted December,
    Too happy, happy brook,
  Thy bubblings ne'er remember
    Apollo's summer look;
  But with a sweet forgetting,
  They stay their crystal fretting,
  Never, never petting
    About the frozen time.

  Ah! would 'twere so with many
    A gentle girl and boy!
  But were there ever any
    Writh'd not at passed joy?
  The feel of _not_ to feel it,
  When there is none to heal it,
  Nor numbed sense to steel it,
    Was never said in rhyme.[9]

Keats's model in this instance is a song from Dryden's _Spanish Fryar_,
a thing rather beside his ordinary course of reading: can he perhaps
have taken the volume containing it from Bailey's shelves, as he took
the poems of Orinda? Here is a verse to show the tune as set by
Dryden:--

  Farewell ungrateful Traitor,
    Farewell my perjured swain,
  Let never injured creature
    Believe a man again.
  The pleasure of possessing
  Surpasses all expressing,
  But 'tis too short a blessing,
    And Love too long a pain.

Do readers recall what the greatest of metrical magicians, who would be
so very great a poet if metrical magic were the whole of poetry, or if
the body of thought and imagination in his work had commonly half as
much vitality as the verbal music which is its vesture,--do readers
recall what Mr Swinburne made of this same measure when he took it up
half a century later in the _Garden of Proserpine_?

But in attending to these incidental lyrics we risk losing sight of what
was Keats's main business in these weeks, namely the bringing to a close
his eight months' task upon _Endymion_. In finishing the poem he was
only a little behind the date he had fixed when he wrote its opening
lines at Carisbrooke:--

  Many and many a verse I hope to write,
  Before the daisies, vermeil rimm'd and white,
  Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
  Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
  I must be near the middle of my story.
  O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
  See it half finish'd: but let Autumn bold,
  With universal tinge of sober gold,
  Be all about me when I make an end.

The gold had almost all fallen: in the passage in which Keats makes
Endymion bid what he supposes to be his last farewell to his mortal love
it is the season itself, the season and the autumnal scene, which speak,
just as they spoke in the 'drear-nighted December' lyric:--

                                  The Carian
  No word return'd: both lovelorn, silent, wan,
  Into the vallies green together went.
  Far wandering, they were perforce content
  To sit beneath a fair lone beechen tree;
  Nor at each other gaz'd, but heavily
  Por'd on its hazle cirque of shedded leaves.

and again:--

                              At this he press'd
  His hands against his face, and then did rest
  His head upon a mossy hillock green,
  And so remain'd as he a corpse had been
  All the long day; save when he scantly lifted
  His eyes abroad, to see how shadows shifted
  With the slow move of time,--sluggish and weary
  Until the poplar tops, in journey dreary,
  Had reach'd the river's brim. Then up he rose,
  And slowly as that very river flows,
  Walk'd towards the temple grove with this lament:
  'Why such a golden eve? The breeze is sent
  Careful and soft, that not a leaf may fall
  Before the serene father of them all
  Bows down his summer head below the west.
  Now am I of breath, speech, and speed possest,
  But at the setting I must bid adieu
  To her for the last time. Night will strew
  On the damp grass myriads of lingering leaves,
  And with them shall I die; nor much it grieves
  To die, when summer dies on the cold sward.'

That point about making, as it were, a dial-hand of a certain group of
poplars with their moving shadows would have a special local interest if
one could find the place which suggested it. The sun sets early in this
valley in the winter. I know not if there is any group of trees still
standing that could be watched thus lengthening out its afternoon shadow
to the river's edge.

Opposite the last line in the manuscript of _Endymion_ Keats wrote the
date November 28, whence it would appear that it had taken him some ten
days at most to complete the required five hundred lines. He did not
immediately leave Burford Bridge, but stayed on through the first week
or ten days of December, setting to work at once, it would appear, on
the revision of his long poem, and composing, we know, the
'drear-nighted December' lyric, and perhaps one or two others, before he
returned to the fraternal lodgings at Hampstead. The scheme of a winter
flight to Lisbon for the suffering Tom had been given up, and it had
been arranged instead that George should take him to spend some months
at Teignmouth. They were to be there by Christmas, and Keats timed his
return so as to be with them for a week or two at Hampstead before they
started. _Endymion_ was not published until the following April, but
inasmuch as with its completion there ends the first, the uncertain,
experimental, now rapturously and now despondently expectant phase of
Keats's mind and art, let us make this our opportunity for studying it.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] 'Sad stories' in the original text of _Richard II_. The allusion
    is to the well-known incident of Shelley alarming an old lady in a
    stage coach by suddenly breaking out with this quotation. Whether
    Keats had been in his company at the time we do not know.

  [2] 'Our friend' of course is Leigh Hunt.

  [3] Houghton MSS.

  [4] _Paradise Lost_, viii, 288-311.

  [5] _Ibid._ viii, 452-490.

  [6] The late precociously gifted and prematurely lost Mary Suddard,
    in _Essays and Studies_ (Cambridge, 1912).

  [7] If it is objected that _The Handful of Pleasant Delites_ is an
    excessively rare book, which Keats is not likely to have known, the
    answer is that it had been reprinted three years earlier in
    _Heliconia_, the great three-volume collection edited by Thomas Park;
    and moreover that Park, one of the most zealous and learned of
    researchers in the field of old English literature, had long been
    living in Church Row, Hampstead, and both as neighbour and elder
    fellow-worker can hardly fail to have been known to Dilke and his
    circle.

  [8] Crewe MSS.

  [9] This poem was first printed posthumously in 1829: both in _The
    Gem_, a periodical of the _Keepsake_ type then edited by Thomas Hood,
    and in Galignani's collective edition of the poems of Coleridge,
    Shelley, and Keats published the same year in Paris. In these and all
    versions subsequently printed the first lines of stanzas I and II are
    altered and read 'In a drear-nighted December,' and the fifth line is
    made to run, 'To know the change and feel it.' The first line thus
    gets two light syllables instead of one before the first stress,
    giving a faint suggestion of a triple-time movement which certainly
    does not hurt the metre. The new fifth line is to modern ears more
    elegant than the original, as getting rid of the vulgar substantive
    form 'feel' for feeling. But 'feel,' which after all had been good
    enough for Horace Walpole and Fanny Burney, was to Keats and the
    Leigh Hunt circle no vulgarism at all, it was a thing of every day
    usage both in verse and prose. And does not the correction somewhat
    blunt the point of Keats's meaning? To be emphatically aware of no
    longer feeling a joy once felt is a pain that may indeed call for
    steeling or healing, while to steel or heal a 'change' seems neither
    so easy nor so needful: at all events the phrase is more lax. It may
    be doubted whether the alterations are due to Keats at all and not to
    someone (conceivably, in the case of _The Gem_, Thomas Hood) editing
    him after his death. I should add, however, that I have found what
    must perhaps be regarded as evidence that Keats did try various
    versions of this final stanza, in the shape of another transcript
    made in 1827 by a brother of his friend Woodhouse. In this version
    the poem is headed _Pain of Memory_, an apt title, and while the
    first and second stanzas keep their original form, the third runs
    quite differently, as follows:--

      But in the Soul's December
        The fancy backward strays,
      And darkly doth remember
        The hue of golden days,
      In woe the thought appalling
      Of bliss gone past recalling
      Brings o'er the heart a falling
        Not to be told in rhyme.

    This can hardly be other than an alternative version tried by Keats
    himself. The 'Fallings from us, vanishings' of Wordsworth's _Ode on
    Intimations of Immortality_, may be responsible for the 'falling' in
    the seventh line, and though 'the thought appalling' is a
    common-place phrase little in Keats's manner, it is worth noting that
    the word occurs in Bailey's report of his spoken comment on this very
    passage of Wordsworth (see above, p. 146).



CHAPTER VI

_ENDYMION._--I. THE STORY: ITS SOURCES, PLAN, AND SYMBOLISM

  Invention and imagination--What the moon meant to Keats--Elizabethan
  Precedents--Fletcher and Drayton--Drayton's two versions--Debt of
  Keats to Drayton--Strain of allegory--The Soul's quest for
  beauty--Phantasmagoric adventures--The four elements theory--Its
  error--Book I. The exordium--The forest scene--Confession to
  Peona--Her expostulation--Endymion's defence--The ascending scale--The
  highest hope--Book II. The praise of love--Underworld marvels--The
  awakening of Adonis--Embraces in the Jasmine Bower--The quest
  renewed--New sympathies awakened--Book III. Exordium--Encounter with
  Glaucus--Glaucus relates his doom--The predestined deliverer--The
  deliverance--Meaning of the Parable--Its machinery explained--The
  happy sequel--Book IV. Address to the Muse--The Indian damsel--An
  ethereal flight--Olympian visions--Descent and
  renunciation--Distressful farewells--The mystery solved--A chastened
  victory--Above analysis justified.


Keats had long been in love with the Endymion story. The very music of
the name, he avers, had gone into his being. We have seen how in the
poem beginning 'I stood tiptoe,' finished at the end of 1816, he tried a
kind of prelude or induction to the theme, and how, laying this aside,
he determined to start fresh on a 'poetical romance' of Endymion on a
great scale. When in April 1817, six weeks after the publication of the
volume of _Poems_, he went off to the Isle of Wight to get firmly to
work on his new task, it is clear that he had its main outlines and
dimensions settled in his mind, but nothing more. He wrote to George
soon after his departure:--

  As to what you say about my being a Poet, I can return no Answer but
  by saying that the high Idea I have of poetical fame makes me think I
  see it towering too high above me. At any rate, I have no right to
  talk until _Endymion_ is finished, it will be a test, a trial of my
  Powers of Imagination, and chiefly of my invention which is a rare
  thing indeed--by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare
  circumstance, and fill them with poetry--and when I consider that this
  is a great task, and that when done it will take me but a dozen paces
  towards the temple of fame--it makes me say--God forbid that I should
  be without such a task! I have Heard Hunt say, and I may be asked--why
  endeavour after a long Poem? To which I should answer, Do not the
  Lovers of Poetry like to have a little Region to wander in, where they
  may pick and choose, and in which the images are so numerous that many
  are forgotten and found new in a second Reading.... Besides, a long
  Poem is a test of invention, which I take to be the Polar Star of
  Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails--and Imagination the rudder.--Did our
  great Poets ever write Short Pieces? I mean in the shape of Tales.
  This same invention seems indeed of late years to have been forgotten
  as a Poetical excellence--But enough of this, I put on no Laurels till
  I shall have finished _Endymion_, and I hope Apollo is not angered at
  my having made a Mockery at  Hunt's--

In his reiterated insistence on Invention and Imagination as the prime
endowments of a poet, Keats closely echoes Joseph Warton's protest
uttered seventy years before: is this because he had read and remembered
it, or only because the same words came naturally to him in pleading the
same cause? When his task was finished he confessed, in the draft of a
preface afterwards cancelled,--'Before I began I had no inward feel of
being able to finish; and as I proceeded my steps were all uncertain.'
But so far as the scale of the poem was concerned he adhered almost
exactly to his original purpose, dividing it into four books and finding
in himself resources enough to draw them out, all except the first, to a
little over a thousand lines each.

Throughout Keats's work, the sources of his inspiration in his finest
passages can almost always be recognized as dual, some special joy in
the delights or sympathy with the doings of nature working together in
him with some special stimulus derived from books. Of such a dual kind
is the whole inspiration of _Endymion_. The poem is a joint outcome of
his intense, his abnormal susceptibility to the spell of moonlight and
of his pleasure in the ancient myth of the loves of the moon-goddess
Cynthia and the shepherd-prince Endymion[1] as made known to him through
the earlier English poets.

The moon was to Keats a power very different from what she has always
been to popular astrology and tradition. Traditionally and popularly she
was the governess of floods, the presiding planet of those that ply
their trade by sea, river, or canal, also of wanderers and vagabonds
generally: the disturber and bewilderer withal of mortal brains and
faculties, sending down upon men under her sway that affliction of
lunacy whose very name was derived from her. For Keats it was her
transmuting and glorifying power that counted, not her pallor but her
splendour, the magic alchemy exercised by her light upon the things of
earth, the heightened mystery, poetry, and withal unity of aspect which
she sheds upon them. He can never keep her praises long out of his early
poetry, and we have seen, in '_I stood tiptoe_,' what a range of
beneficent activities he attributes to her. Now, as he settles down to
work on _Endymion_, we shall find her, by reason of that special
glorifying and unifying magic of her light, become for him, at first
perhaps instinctively and unaware, but more and more consciously as he
goes on, a definite symbol of Beauty itself--what he calls in a letter
'the principle of Beauty in all things,' the principle which binds in a
divine community all such otherwise unrelated matters as those we shall
find him naming together as things of beauty in the exordium of his
poem. Hence the tale of the loves of the Greek shepherd-prince and the
moon-goddess turns under his hand into a parable of the adventures of
the poetic soul striving after full communion with this spirit of
essential Beauty.

As to the literary associations which drew Keats to the Endymion story,
there is scarce one of our Elizabethan poets but touches on it briefly
or at length. Keats was no doubt acquainted with the _Endimion_ of John
Lyly, an allegorical court comedy in sprightly prose which had been
among the plays edited, as it happened, by one of his new Hampstead
friends, Charles Dilke: but in it he could have found nothing to his
purpose. Marlowe is likely to have been in his mind, with

    --that night-wandering, pale, and watery star,
  When yawning dragons draw her thirling car
  From Latmus' mount up to the gloomy sky,
  Where, crowned with blazing light and majesty,
  She proudly sits.

So will Shakespeare have been certainly, with the call--

  Peace, ho! the moon sleeps with Endymion,
  And would not be awaked,

uttered by Portia at the close of the most enchanting moonlight scene in
all literature. Scarcely less familiar to Keats will have been the
invocation near the end of Spenser's _Epithalamion_, or the reference to
'pale-changeful Cynthia' and her Endymion in Browne's _Britannia's
Pastorals_;[2] or those that recur once and again in the sonnets of
Drummond of Hawthornden, or those he would have remembered from the
masque in the _Maid's Tragedy_ of Beaumont and Fletcher, or in
translations of the love-elegies and heroical epistles of Ovid. But the
two Elizabethans, I think, who were chiefly in his conscious or
unconscious recollection when he meditated his theme are Fletcher and
Michael Drayton. Here is the fine Endymion passage, delightfully
paraphrased from Theocritus, and put into the mouth of the wanton Cloe,
by Fletcher in the _Faithful Shepherdess_, that tedious, absurd,
exquisitely written pastoral of which the measures caught and charmed
Keats's ear in youth as they had caught and charmed the ear of Milton
before him.

    Shepherd, I pray thee stay, where hast thou been?
  Or whither go'st thou? Here be Woods as green
  As any, air likewise as fresh and sweet,
  As where smooth _Zephyrus_ plays on the fleet
  Face of the curled Streams, with Flowers as many
  As the young Spring gives, and as choise as any;
  Here be all new Delights, cool Streams and Wells,
  Arbors o'rgrown with Woodbinds, Caves, and Dells,
  Chuse where thou wilt, whilst I sit by, and sing,
  Or gather Rushes to make many a Ring
  For thy long fingers; tell thee tales of Love,
  How the pale _Phoebe_ hunting in a Grove,
  First saw the Boy _Endymion_, from whose Eyes
  She took eternal fire that never dyes:
  How she convey'd him softly in a sleep,
  His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
  Head of old Latmus, where she stoops each night,
  Gilding the Mountain with her Brothers light,
  To kiss her sweetest.

In regard to Drayton's handling of the story there is more to note. In
early life he wrote a poem in heroic couplets called _Endimion and
Phoebe_. This he never reprinted, but introduced passages from it into a
later piece in the same metre called the _Man in the Moone_. The volume
containing Drayton's earlier _Endimion and Phoebe_ became so rare that
when Payne Collier reprinted it in 1856 only two copies were known to
exist. It is unlikely that Keats should have seen either of these. But
he possessed of his own a copy of Drayton's poems in Smethwick's edition
of 1636 (one of the prettiest of seventeenth century books). The _Man in
the Moone_ is included in that volume, and that Keats was familiar with
it is evident. In it, as in the earlier version, but with a difference,
the poet, having enthroned his shepherd-prince beside Cynthia in her
kingdom of the moon, weaves round him a web of mystical disquisition and
allegory, in which popular fancies and superstitions are queerly jumbled
up with the then current conceptions of the science of astronomy and the
traditions of mediæval theology as to the number and order of the
celestial hierarchies. In Drayton's earlier poem all this is highly
serious and written in a rich and decorated vein of poetry intended, it
might seem, to rival Marlowe's _Hero and Leander_: in his later, where
the tale is told by a shepherd to his mates at the feast of Pan, the
narrator lets down his theme with a satiric close in the vein of Lucian,
recounting the human delinquencies nightly espied by Cynthia and her
lover from their sphere.

The particular points in Keats's _Endymion_ where I seem to find
suggestions from Drayton's _Man in the Moone_ are these. First the idea
of introducing the story with the feast of Pan,--but as against this it
may be said with truth that feasts of Pan are stock incidents in
Elizabethan masques and pastorals generally. Second, his sending his
hero on journeys beside or in pursuit of his goddess through manifold
bewildering regions of the earth and air: for this antiquity affords no
warrant, and the hint may have been partly due to the following passage
in Drayton (which is also interesting for its exceptionally breathless
and trailing treatment of the verse):--

                      Endymion now forsakes
  All the delights that shepherds do prefer,
  And sets his mind so gen'rally on her
  That, all neglected, to the groves and springs,
  He follows Phoebe, that him safely brings
  (As their great queen) unto the nymphish bowers,
  Where in clear rivers beautified with flowers
  The silver Naides bathe them in the brack.
  Sometime with her the sea-horse he doth back,
  Amongst the blue Nereides; and when,
  Weary of waters, goddess-like again
  She the high mountains actively assays,
  And there amongst the light Oriades,
  That ride the swift roes, Phoebe doth resort;
  Sometimes amongst those that with them comport,
  The Hamadriades, doth the woods frequent;
  And there she stays not; but incontinent
  Calls down the dragons that her chariot draw,
  And with Endymion pleased that she saw,
  Mounteth thereon, in twinkling of an eye,
  Stripping the winds, beholding from the sky
  The Earth in roundness of a perfect ball,--

the sequel is irrelevant, and the passage so loose in grammar and
construction that it matters not where it is broken off.

Thirdly, we have the curious invention of the magic robe of Glaucus in
Keats's third book. In it, we are told, all the rulers and all the
denizens of ocean are figured and indued with magic power to dwindle and
dilate before the beholder's eyes. Keats describes this mystic garment
in a dozen lines[3] which can scarcely be other than a summary and
generalized recollection of a long passage of eighty in which Drayton
describes the mantle of Cynthia herself, inwoven with figures of sea and
storm and shipwreck and sea-birds and of men fishing and fowling (crafts
supposed to be subject to the planetary influence of the moon) in tidal
or inland waters. And lastly, Keats in his second book has taken a
manifest hint from Drayton where he makes Venus say archly how she has
been guessing in vain which among the Olympian goddesses is Endymion's
lover.[4]

Not merely by delight in particular poets and familiarity with favourite
passages, but by rooted instinct and by his entire self-training, Keats
was beyond all his contemporaries,--and it is the cardinal fact to be
borne in mind about him,--the lineal descendant and direct heir of the
Elizabethans. The spirit of Elizabethan poetry was born again in him
with its excesses and defects as well as its virtues. One general
characteristic of this poetry is its prodigality and confusion of
incidental, irrelevant, and superfluous beauties, its lack, however much
it may revel in classical ideas and associations, of the classical
instinct for clarity, simplicity, and selection. Another (I speak
especially of narrative poetry) is its habitual wedding of allegory and
romance, its love of turning into parable every theme, other than mere
chronicle, which it touches. All the masters with whom Keats was at this
time most familiar--Spenser of course first and foremost, William Browne
and practically all the Spenserians,--were men apt to conceive alike of
Grecian myth and mediæval romance as necessarily holding moral and
symbolic under-meanings in solution. Again, it was from Ovid's
_Metamorphoses_, as Englished by that excellent Jacobean translator,
George Sandys, that Keats, more than from any other source, made himself
familiar with the details of classic fable; and Sandys, in the fine
Oxford folio edition of his book which we know Keats used, must needs
conform to a fixed mediæval and Renaissance tradition by 'mythologizing'
his text, as he calls it, with a commentary full not only of
illustrative parallel passages but of interpretations half rationalist,
half ethical, which Ovid never dreamt of. Neither must it be forgotten
that among Keats's own contemporaries Shelley had in his first important
poem, _Alastor_, set the example of embarking on an allegoric theme,
and one shadowing forth, as we shall find that _Endymion_ shadows forth
though on different lines, the adventures and experiences of the poetic
soul in man.

The bewildering redundance and intricacy of detail in _Endymion_ are
obvious, the presence of an underlying strain of allegoric or symbolic
meaning harder to detect. Keats's letters referring to his poem contain
only the slightest and rarest hints of the presence of such ideas in it,
and in the execution they are so little obtruded or even made clear that
they were wholly missed by two generations of his earlier readers. It is
only of late years that they have yielded themselves, and even now none
too definitely, to the scrutiny of students reading and re-reading the
poem by the light of incidental utterances in his earlier and later
poetry and in his miscellaneous letters. But the ideas are certainly
there: they account for and give interest to much that, taken as mere
narrative, is confusing or unpalatable: and the best way of finding a
clue through the mazes of the poem is by laying and keeping hold upon
them wherever we can.

For such a clue to serve the reader, he must have it in his hand from
the beginning. Let it be borne in mind, then, that besides the
fundamental idea of treating the passion of Endymion for Cynthia as a
type of the passion of the poetic soul for essential Beauty, Keats wrote
under the influence of two secondary moral ideas or convictions,
inchoate probably in his mind when he began but gaining definiteness as
he went on. One was that the soul enamoured of and pursuing Beauty
cannot achieve its quest in selfishness and isolation, but to succeed
must first be taken out of itself and purified by active sympathy with
the lives and sufferings of others: the other, that a passion for the
manifold separate and dividual beauties of things and beings upon earth
is in its nature identical with the passion for that transcendental and
essential Beauty: hence the various human love-adventures which befall
the hero in dreams or in reality, and seem to distract him from his
divine quest, are shown in the end to be in truth no infidelities but
only attractions exercised by his celestial mistress in disguise.

In devising the adventures of his hero in accordance with these leading
ideas, Keats works in part from his own mental experience. He weaves
into his tale, in terms always of concrete imagery, all the complex
fluctuations of joy and despondency, gleams of confident spiritual
illumination alternating with faltering hours of darkness and
self-doubt, which he had himself been undergoing since the ambition to
be a great poet seized him. He cannot refrain from also weaving in a
thousand and one irrelevant matters which the activity and ferment of
his young imagination suggest, thus continually confusing the main
current of his narrative and breaking the coherence of its symbolism. He
draws out 'the one bare circumstance,' to use his own phrase, of the
story into an endless chain of intricate and flowery narrative, leading
us on phantasmagoric journeyings under the bowels of the earth and over
the floor of ocean and through the fields of air. The scenery, indeed,
is often not merely of a Gothic vastness and intricacy: there is
something of Oriental bewilderment--an Arabian Night's jugglery with
space and time--in the vague suddenness with which its changes are
effected.

Critics so justly esteemed as Mr Robert Bridges and Professor de
Sélincourt have sought a key to the organic structure of the poem in the
supposition that each of its four books is intended to relate the hero's
probationary adventures in one of the four elements, the first book
being assigned to Earth, the second to Fire, the third to Water, the
fourth to Air. I am convinced that this view is mistaken. The action of
the first book passes on earth, no doubt, and that of the second beneath
the earth. Now it is true that according to ancient belief there existed
certain subterranean abodes or focuses of fire,--the stithy of Vulcan,
the roots of Etna where the giants lay writhing, the river of bale
rolling in flames around the city of the damned. But such things did not
make the under-world, as the theory of these critics assumes, the
recognized region of the element fire. According to the cosmology fully
set forth by Ovid at the beginning of his first book, and therefore
thoroughly familiar to Keats, the proper region or sphere of fire was
placed above and outside that of air and farthest of all from earth.[5]
Not only had Keats therefore no ancient authority for thinking of the
under-world as the special region of fire, he had explicit authority to
the contrary. Moreover, if he had meant fire he would have given us
fire, whereas in his under-world there is never a gleam of it, not a
flicker of the flames of Phlegethon nor so much as a spark from the
anvil of Vulcan; but instead, endless shadowy temple corridors, magical
cascades spouting among prodigious precipices, and the gardens and bower
of Adonis in their spring herbage and freshness. It is true, again, that
the third book takes us and keeps us under sea. But the reason is the
general one that Endymion, typifying the poetic soul of man in love with
the principle of essential Beauty, has to leave habitual things behind
him and

                             wander far
  In other regions, past the scanty bar
  To mortal steps,

in order to learn secrets of life, death, and destiny necessary to his
enlightenment and discipline. Where else should he learn such secrets if
not in the mysterious hollows of the earth and on the untrodden floor of
ocean? 'Our friend Keats,' Endymion is made to say in one of the poet's
letters from Oxford, 'has been hauling me through the earth and sea
with unrelenting perseverance': and in like manner in the poem itself
the hero asks,

            Why am I not as are the dead,
  Since to a woe like this I have been led
  Through the dark earth, and through the wondrous sea?

But never a word to suggest any thought of the element fire--an element
from which Keats's too often fevered spirit seems even to have shrunk,
for except in telling of the blazing omens of _Hyperion's_ downfall it
is scarce mentioned in his poetry at all. Lastly, it is again true that
in the fourth book Endymion and his earthly love are carried by winged
horses on an ethereal excursion among the stars (though only for two
hundred and seventy lines out of a thousand, the rest of the action
passing, like that of the first book, on the soil of Caria). But this
flight has nothing to do with the element air as such; it is the flight
of the soul on the coursers of imagination through a region of dreams
and visions destined afterwards to come true. Hints for such submarine
and ethereal wanderings will no doubt have come into Keats's mind from
various sources in his reading,--from the passage of Drayton above
quoted,--from the _Arabian Nights_,--it may be from like incidents in
the mediæval Alexander romances (in which the hero's crowning exploits
are always a flight to heaven with two griffins and a plunge under-sea
in a glass case), or possibly even from the _Endimion_ of Gombauld, a
very wild and withal tiresome French seventeenth-century prose romance
on Keats's own theme.[6]

BOOK I. This book is entirely introductory, and carries us no farther
than the exposition by the hero of the trouble in which he finds
himself. For its exordium Keats uses a line, and probably a whole
passage, which he had written many months before and kept by him. One
day in 1816, while he was still walking the hospitals and sharing rooms
in St Thomas's Street with his fellow students Mackereth and Henry
Stephens, Keats called out to Stephens from his window-seat to listen to
a new line he had just written,--'A thing of beauty is a constant
joy,'--and asked him how he liked it. Stephens indicating that he was
not quite satisfied, Keats thought again and came out with the amended
line, now familiar and proverbial even to triteness, 'A thing of beauty
is a joy for ever.'[7] Using this for the first line of his new poem,
Keats runs on from it into a passage, which may or may not have been
written at the same time, declaring the virtues of those things of
beauty--sun, moon, trees, rivulets, flowers, tales of beauty and
heroism indiscriminately--which make for health and quietude amidst the
gloom and distemper of the world. Then he tells of his own happiness in
setting about his cherished task in the prime of spring, and his hopes
of finishing it before winter. He takes us to a Pan-haunted forest on
Mount Latmos, with many paths leading to an open glade. The hour is
dawn, the scene in part manifestly modelled on a similar one in the
Chaucerian poem, _The Floure and Lefe_, in which he took so much
pleasure. First a group of little children come in from the forest paths
and gather round the altar, then a bevy of damsels, then a company of
shepherds; priests and people follow, and last of all the young
shepherd-prince and hero Endymion, now wan and pining from a new,
unexplained soul-sickness.

The festival opens with a speech of thanksgiving and exhortation from
the priest, followed by a choral hymn in honour of the god: then come
dances and games and story-telling. Meantime Endymion and the priest sit
apart among the elder shepherds, who pass the time imagining what happy
tasks and ministrations it will be theirs to ply in their 'homes
ethereal' after death. In the midst of such conversation Endymion goes
off into a distressful trance, during which there comes to him his
sister Peona (this personage and her name are inventions of Keats, the
name perhaps suggested by that of Paeana in the fourth book of the
_Faerie Queene_, or by the Paeon mentioned in Lemprière as a son of
Endymion in the Elean version of the tale, or by Paeon the physician of
the gods in the _Iliad_, whom she resembles in her quality of healer and
comforter; or very probably by all three together). Peona wakes her
brother from his trance, and takes him in a shallop to an arbour of her
own on a little island in a lake. Here she lulls him to rest, the poet
first pausing to utter a fine invocation to Sleep--his second, the first
having been at the beginning of _Sleep and Poetry_. Endymion awakens
refreshed, and promises to be of better cheer in future. She sings
soothingly to the lute, and then questions him concerning his
troubles:--

                    Brother,'tis vain to hide
  That thou dost know of things mysterious,
  Immortal, starry; such alone could thus
  Weigh down thy nature.

When she has guessed in vain, he determines to confide in her: tells her
how he fell asleep on a bed of poppies and other flowers which he had
found magically new-blown on a place where there had been none before;
how he dreamed that he was gazing fixedly at the stars shining in the
zenith with preternatural glory, until they began to swim and fade, and
then, dropping his eyes to the horizon, he saw the moon in equal glory
emerging from the clouds; how on her disappearance he again looked up
and there came down to him a female apparition of incomparable beauty
(in whom it does not yet occur to him to recognize the moon-goddess);
how she took him by the hand, and they were lifted together through
mystic altitudes

  Where falling stars dart their artillery forth
  And eagles struggle with the buffeting north
  That balances the heavy meteor stone;

how thence they swooped downwards in eddies of the mountain wind, and
finally how, clinging to and embracing his willing companion in a
delirium of happiness, he alighted beside her on a flowery alp, and
there fell into a dream-sleep within his sleep; from which awakening to
reality, he found himself alone on the bed of poppies, with the breeze
at intervals bringing him 'Faint fare-thee-wells and sigh-shrilled
adieus,' and with disenchantment fallen upon everything about him:--

                            All the pleasant hues
  Of heaven and earth had faded: deepest shades
  Were deepest dungeons: heaths and sunny shades
  Were full of pestilent light; and taintless rills
  Seem'd sooty, and o'erspread with upturn'd gills
  Of dying fish; the vermeil rose had blown
  In frightful scarlet, and its thorns outgrown
  Like spikèd aloe.

Here we have the first of those mystic dream-flights of Endymion and his
celestial visitant in company, prefiguring the union of the soul with
the spirit of essential Beauty, which have to come true before the end
but of which the immediate result is that all other delights lose their
savour and turn to ashes. The spirit of man, so the interpretation would
seem to run, having once caught the vision of transcendental Beauty and
been allowed to embrace it, must pine after it evermore and in its
absence can take no delight in nature or mankind. Another way would have
been to make his hero find in every such momentary vision or revelation
a fresh encouragement, a source of joy and inspiration until the next:
but this was not Keats's way. Peona listens with sisterly sympathy, but
her powers of help, being purely human, cannot in this case avail. She
can only try to rouse him by contrasting his present forlorn and languid
state with his former virility and ambition:--

                     Yet it is strange and sad, alas!
  That one who through this middle earth should pass
  Most like a sojourning demi-god, and leave
  His name upon the harp-string, should achieve
  No higher bard than simple maidenhood,
  Sighing alone, and fearfully,--how the blood
  Left his young cheek; and how he used to stray
  He knew not where; and how he would say, _Nay_,
  If any said 'twas love: and yet 'twas love;
  What could it be but love? How a ring-dove
  Let fall a sprig of yew-tree in his path;
  And how he died: and then, that love doth scathe
  The gentle heart, as Northern blasts do roses.
  And then the ballad of his sad life closes
  With sighs, and an alas! Endymion!

His reply in his own defence is long and much of it beautiful: but we
follow the chain of thought and argument with difficulty, so hidden is
it in flowers of poetry and so little are its vital links made obvious.
A letter of Keats, containing one of his very few explanatory comments
on work of his own, shows that he attached great importance to the
passage and felt that its sequence and significance might easily be
missed. Sending a correction of the proof to Mr Taylor, the publisher,
he says--'The whole thing must, I think, have appeared to you, who are a
consecutive man, as a thing almost of mere words, but I assure you that
when I wrote it, it was a regular stepping of the Imagination towards a
truth. My having written that argument will perhaps be of the greatest
service to me of anything I ever did. It set before me the gradations of
happiness, even like a kind of pleasure thermometer, and is my first
step towards the chief attempt in the drama.' The first ten lines offer
little difficulty:--

  Peona! ever have I long'd to slake
  My thirst for the world's praises: nothing base,
  No merely slumberous phantasm, could unlace
  The stubborn canvas for my voyage prepar'd--
  Though now 'tis tatter'd; leaving my bark bar'd
  And sullenly drifting: yet my higher hope
  Is of too wide, too rainbow-large a scope,
  To fret at myriads of earthly wrecks.
  Wherein lies happiness? In that which becks
  Our ready minds to fellowship divine,
  A fellowship with essence; till we shine,
  Full alchemiz'd, and free of space. Behold
  The clear religion of heaven!

It seems clear that we have here shadowed forth the highest hope and
craving of the poetic soul, the hope to be wedded in full communion or
'fellowship divine'--or shall we say with Wordsworth in love and holy
passion?--with the spirit of essential Beauty in the world. In the next
lines we shall find, if we read them carefully enough, that Keats,
having thus defined his ultimate hope, breaks off and sets out again
from the foot of a new ascending scale of poetical pleasure and
endeavour which he asks us to consider. It differs from the ascending
scale of the earlier poems inasmuch as it begins, not with the toying
of nymphs in shady places and the like, but with thoughts of olden
minstrelsy and romantic tales and prophecies. The verse here is of
Keats's finest:--

                  --hist, when the airy stress
  Of music's kiss impregnates the free winds,
  And with a sympathetic touch unbinds
  Æolian magic from their lucid wombs:
  Then old songs waken from enclouded tombs;
  Old ditties sigh above their father's grave;
  Ghosts of melodious prophecyings rave
  Round every spot where trod Apollo's foot;
  Bronze clarions awake, and faintly bruit,
  Where long ago a giant battle was;
  And, from the turf, a lullaby doth pass
  In every place where infant Orpheus slept.

It is impressed upon us in the next lines that this is a relatively
unexalted phase of imaginative feeling, and our thoughts are directed to
other experiences of the poetic soul more enthralling and more
'self-destroying' (that is more effectual in purging it of egotism),
namely the experiences of friendship and love, those of love above
all:--

  Aye, so delicious is the unsating food,
  That men, who might have tower'd in the van
  Of all the congregated world, to fan
  And winnow from the coming step of time
  All chaff of custom, wipe away all slime
  Left by men-slugs and human serpentry,
  Have been content to let occasion die,
  Whilst they did sleep in love's elysium.
  And, truly, I would rather be struck dumb,
  Than speak against this ardent listlessness:
  For I have ever thought that it might bless
  The world with benefits unknowingly;
  As does the nightingale, upperched high,
  And cloister'd among cool and bunched leaves--
  She sings but to her love, nor e'er conceives
  How tiptoe Night holds back her dark-grey hood.

If a man, next pleads Endymion, may thus reasonably give up even the
noblest of worldly ambitions for the joys of a merely mortal love, how
much more may he do so for those of an immortal. No, he re-assures Peona
in reply to her questioning glance, he is not fancy-sick:--

                       no, no, I'm sure
  My restless spirit never could endure
  To brood so long upon one luxury,
  Unless it did, though fearfully, espy
  A hope beyond the shadow of a dream.

We have now been carried back to the top of the scale, and these lines
again express, although vaguely, the aspirations of the poetic soul at
their highest pitch, rising through thoughts and experiences of mortal
love to the hope of communion with immortal Beauty. But that longed-for,
loftiest phase of the imaginative life, that hope beyond the shadow of a
dream, too vast and too rainbow-bright to be quenched by any fear of
earthly disaster, Endymion cannot attempt to define, least of all to the
practically-minded Peona. He can only try to convince her of its reality
by telling her of later momentary visitations with which the divinity of
his dreams has favoured him--her face reflected at him from a
spring--her voice murmuring to him from a cave--and how miserably in the
intervals he has pined and hungered for her. But now, he ends by
assuring his sister, he will be patient and pine no longer. Yet it is
but a sickly half-assurance after all.

  There is a paly flame of hope that plays
  Where'er I look: but yet, I'll say 'tis naught,
  And here I bid it die. Have I not caught,
  Already, a more healthy countenance?

And with this, as she rows him back from her island, the anxious sister
must rest content.

BOOK II. opens with a renewed declamation on the power and glory of
love, and the relative unimportance of the wars and catastrophes of
history. Juliet leaning from her balcony, the swoon of Imogen, Hero
wrongfully accused by Claudio, Spenser's Pastorella among the bandits,
he declares,

  Are things to brood on with more ardency
  Than the death-day of empires.

The passage has caused some critics to reproach Keats as a mere mawkish
amorist indifferent to the great affairs and interests of the world. But
must one not believe that all poor flawed and fragmentary human loves,
real or fabled, happy or miserable, are far off symbols and shadowings
of that Love which, unless the universe is quite other than we have
trusted, 'moves the sun and the other stars?' Are they not related to it
as to their source and spring? It is quite true that Keats was not yet
able to tell of such loves except in terms which you may call mawkish if
you will (he called them so himself a little later). But being a poet he
knew well enough their worth and parentage. And when the future looks
back on today, even on today, a death-day of empires in a sterner and
vaster sense than any the world has known, will all the waste and hatred
and horror, all the hope and heroism of the time, its tremendous issues
and catastrophes, be really found to have eclipsed and superseded love
as the thing fittest to fill the soul and inspire the songs of a poet?

The invocation ended, we set out with the hero on the adventures that
await him. He gathers a wild-rose bud which on expanding releases a
butterfly from its heart: the butterfly takes wing and he follows its
flight with eagerness. At last they reach a fountain spouting near the
mouth of a cave, and in touching the water the butterfly is suddenly
transformed into a nymph of the fountain, who speaking to Endymion
pities, encourages, and warns him in one breath. Endymion sits and
soliloquizes beside the fountain, at first in wavering terms which
express the ebb and flow of Keats's own inner aspirations and misgivings
about his poetic calling. Anon he invokes the virgin goddess Cynthia to
quell the tyranny of love in him (not yet guessing that his dream
visitant is really she). But no, insensibility would be the worst of
all; the goddess must, he is assured, know of some form of love higher
and purer than the Cupids are concerned with; he prays to her to be
propitious; dreams again that he is sailing through the sky with her;
and makes a wild appeal to her which is answered by a voice from within
the cavern bidding him descend 'into the sparry hollows of the world.'
He obeys, (this plunge into a spring or fountain and thence into the
under-world is a regular incident in a whole group of folk tales, one or
another of which was no doubt in Keats's mind): and we follow him at
first into a region

            nor bright, nor sombre wholly,
  But mingled up; a gleaming melancholy;
  A dusky empire and its diadems;
  One faint eternal eventide of gems.

A vein of gold sparkling with jewels serves him for path, and leads him
through twilight vaults and passages to a ridge that towers over many
waterfalls: and the lustre of a pendant diamond guides him further till
he reaches a temple of Diana. What imaginative youth but has known his
passive day-dreams haunted by visions, mysteriously impressive and
alluring, of natural and architectural marvels, huge sculptured caverns
and glimmering palace-halls in endless vista? To such imaginings, fed by
his readings and dreamings on

  Memphis, and Nineveh, and Babylon,

Keats in this book lets himself go without a check. Now we find
ourselves in a temple, described as complete and true to sacred custom,
with an image of Diana; and in a trice either we have passed, or the
temple itself has dissolved, into a structure which by its 'abysmal
depths of awe,' its gloomy splendours and intricacies of aisle and vault
and corridor, its dimly gorgeous and most un-Grecian magnificence,
reminds us of nothing so much as of Vathek and the halls of Eblis or
some of the magical subterranean palaces of the _Arabian Nights_.
(Beckford's _Vathek_ and the _Thousand and One Nights_ were both among
Keats's familiar reading.) Endymion is miserable there, and appeals to
Diana to restore him to the pleasant light of earth. Thereupon the
marble floor breaks up beneath and before his footsteps into a flowery
sward. Endymion walks on to the sound of a soft music which only
intensifies his yearnings: is led by a light through the alleys of a
myrtle grove; and comes to an embowered chamber where Adonis lies asleep
among little ministering Loves, with Cupid himself, lute in hand, for
their chief.

Here follows a long and highly wrought episode of the winter sleep of
Adonis and the descent of Venus to awaken him. The original idea for the
scene comes from Ovid, in part direct, in part through Spenser (_Faerie
Queene_, iii, 6) and Shakespeare. But the detail is entirely Keats's own
and on the whole is a happy example of his early luxuriant manner;
especially the description of the entrance of Venus and the looks and
presence of Cupid as bystander and interpreter. The symbolic meaning of
the story is for him evidently much the same as it was to the
ancients,--the awakening of nature to love and life after the sleep of
winter, with all the ulterior and associated hopes implied by such a
resurrection. The first embracements over, Endymion is about to intreat
the favour of Venus for his quest when she anticipates him
encouragingly, telling him that from her upper regions she has perceived
his plight and has guessed (here is one of the echoes from Drayton to
which I have referred above) that some goddess, she knows not which, has
condescended to him. She bids her son be propitious to him, and she and
Adonis depart. Endymion wanders on by miraculous grottoes and palaces,
and then mounts by a diamond balustrade,

  Leading afar past wild magnificence,
  Spiral through ruggedst loopholes, and thence
  Stretching across a void, then guiding o'er
  Enormous chasms, where, all foam and roar,
  Streams subterranean teaze their granite beds;
  Then heighten'd just above the silvery heads
  Of a thousand fountains, so that he could dash
  The waters with his spear; but at the splash,
  Done heedlessly, those spouting columns rose
  Sudden a poplar's height, and 'gan to enclose
  His diamond path with fretwork, streaming round
  Alive, and dazzling cool, and with a sound,
  Haply, like dolphin tumults, when sweet shells
  Welcome the float of Thetis.

The fountains assume all manner of changing and interlacing imitative
shapes which he watches with delight (this and much else on the
underground journey seems to be the outcome of pure fancy and
day-dreaming on the poet's part, without symbolic purpose). Then passing
on through a dim tremendous region of vaults and precipices he has a
momentary vision of the earth-goddess Cybele with her team of lions
issuing from an arch below him. At this point the diamond balustrade
suddenly breaks off in mid-space and ends in nothing.[8] Endymion calls
to Jove for help and rescue, and is taken up on the wings of an eagle,
(is this the eagle of Dante in the _Purgatory_ and of Chaucer in The
_House of Fame_?) who swoops down with him,--all this still happening,
be it remembered, deep within the bowels of the earth,--to a place of
sweet airs of flowers and mosses. He is deposited in a jasmine bower,
wonders within himself who and what his unknown love may be, longs to
force his way to her, but as that may not be, to sleep and dream of her.
He sleeps on a mossy bed; she comes to him; and their endearments are
related, unluckily in a very cloying and distasteful manner of amatory
ejaculation. It was a flaw in Keats's art and a blot on his genius--or
perhaps only a consequence of the rawness and ferment of his
youth?--that thinking nobly as he did of love, yet when he came to
relate a love-passage, even one intended as this to be symbolical of
ideal things, he could only realize it in terms like these.

The visitant, whose identity is still unrecognized, again disappears; he
resumes his quest, and next finds himself in a huge vaulted grotto full
of sea treasures and sea sounds and murmurs. Here he goes over in memory
his past life and aspirations,

                                  --the spur
  Of the old bards to mighty deeds: his plans
  To nurse the golden age 'mong shepherd clans:
  That wondrous night: the great Pan-festival:
  His sister's sorrow; and his wanderings all,
  Until into the earth's deep maw he rush'd:
  Then all its buried magic, till it flush'd
  High with excessive love. 'And now,' thought he,
  'How long must I remain in jeopardy
  Of blank amazements that amaze no more?
  Now I have tasted her sweet soul to the core
  All other depths are shallow: essences,
  Once spiritual, are like muddy lees,
  Meant but to fertilize my earthly root,
  And make my branches lift a golden fruit
  Into the bloom of heaven: other light,
  Though it be quick and sharp enough to blight
  The Olympian eagle's vision, is dark,
  Dark as the parentage of chaos. Hark!
  My silent thoughts are echoing from these shells;
  Or they are but the ghosts, the dying swells
  Of noises far away?--list!--'

The poet seems here to mean that in the seeker's transient hour of union
with his unknown divinity capacities for thought and emotion have been
awakened in him richer and more spiritually illuminating than he has
known before. The strange sounds which reach him are the rushing of the
streams of the river-god Alpheus and the fountain-nymph Arethusa;
Arethusa fleeing, Alpheus pursuing (according to that myth which is told
most fully by Ovid and which Shelley's lyric has made familiar to all
English readers); he entreating, she longing to yield but fearing the
wrath of Diana. Endymion, who till now has had no thought of anything
but his own plight, is touched by the pangs of these lovers and prays to
his goddess to assuage them. We are left to infer that she assents: they
plunge into a gulf and disappear: he turns to follow a path which leads
him in the direction of a cooler light and a louder sound:

                                --and lo!
  More suddenly than doth a moment go,
  The visions of the earth were gone and fled--
  He saw the giant sea above his head.

Throughout this second book Keats has been content to let the mystery
and 'buried magic' of the under-world reveal itself in nothing of more
original invention or of deeper apparent significance than the spring
awakening of Adonis and the vision of the earth-goddess Cybele. His
under-world is no Tartarus or Elysium, no place of souls: he attempts
nothing like the calling-up of the ghosts of dead heroes by Ulysses in
the _Odyssey_, still less like the mystic revelation of a future state
of rewards and punishments in the sixth book of the _Aeneid_. Possibly
the visit of the disguised Diana is meant to have a double meaning, and
of her three characters as 'Queen of Earth, and Heaven, and Hell,' to
refer to the last, that of a goddess of the under-world and of the dead,
and at the same time to symbolize the power of the spirit of Beauty to
visit the poet's soul with joy and illumination even among the 'dismal
elements' of that nether sphere. Into the rest of the underground
scenery and incidents it is hard to read any symbolical meaning or
anything but the uncontrolled and aimless-seeming play of invention. But
in what is now to follow we are conscious of a fuller meaning and a
stricter plan. That from Diana, conscious of her own weakness,
indulgence for the weakness of her nymph Arethusa should be won by the
prayer of Endymion, now for the first time wrought to sympathy with the
sorrows of others, is a clear stage in the development of the poet's
scheme. The next stage is more decisive and significant still.

Book III. Keats begins his third book with a denunciation of kings,
conquerors, and worldly 'regalities' in general, amplifying in his least
fortunate style the ideas contained in the sonnet 'On receiving a laurel
crown from Leigh Hunt' written the previous March in the copy of his
_Poems_ which he gave to Reynolds (see above, p. 57). When Keats read
this passage to Bailey at Oxford, Bailey very justly found fault with
some forced expressions in it such as 'baaing vanities,' and also, he
tells us, with what seemed to him an over-done defiance of the
traditional way of handling the rimed couplet. From denunciation the
verse passes into narrative with the question, 'Are then regalities all
gilded masks?' The answer is, No, there are a thousand mysterious powers
throned in the universe--cosmic powers, as we should now say--most of
them far beyond human ken but a few within it; and of these, swears the
poet, the moon is 'the gentlier-mightiest.' Having once more, in a
strain of splendid nature-poetry, praised her, he resumes his tale, and
tells how Cynthia, pining no less than Endymion, sends a shaft of her
light down to him where he lies on an under-sea bed of sand and pearls;
how this comforts him, and how at dawn he resumes his fated journey.
Here follows a description of the litter of the Ocean floor which, as we
shall see later, is something of a challenge to Shakespeare and was in
its turn something of an inspiration to Shelley. Endymion now in his own
person takes up the inexhaustible theme of the moon's praise, asking her
pardon at the same time for having lately suffered a more rapturous,
more absorbing passion to come between him and his former youthful
worship of her. At this moment the wanderer's attention is suddenly
diverted,--

  For as he lifted up his eyes to swear
  How his own goddess was past all things fair,
  He saw far in the green concave of the sea
  An old man sitting calm and peacefully.
  Upon a weeded rock this old man sat,
  And his white hair was awful, and a mat
  Of weeds were cold beneath his cold thin feet.

The old man is Glaucus, and the rest of the book is taken up almost
entirely with his story. Keats's reading of Ovid had made him familiar
with this story:[9] but he remodels it radically for his own ethical and
symbolic purpose, giving it turns and a sequel quite unknown to
antiquity, and even helping himself as he felt the need to certain
incidents and machinery of Oriental magic from the _Arabian Nights_.

Glaucus at first sight of Endymion greets him joyfully, seeing in him
his predestined deliverer from the spell of palsied age which binds him.
But Endymion cannot endure the thought of being diverted from his own
private quest, and meets the old man's welcome first with suspicious
terror and then with angry defiance. The grey-haired creature weeps:
whereupon Endymion, newly awakened to human sympathies, is struck with
remorse.

  Had he then wrong'd a heart where sorrow kept?

       *       *       *       *       *

  He had indeed, and he was ripe for tears.
  The penitent shower fell, as down he knelt
  Before that careworn sage.

They rise and proceed over the ocean floor together. Glaucus tells
Endymion his history: how he led a quiet and kind existence as a
fisherman long ago, familiar with and befriended by all sea-creatures,
even the fiercest, until he was seized with the ambition to be free of
Neptune's kingdom and able to live and breathe beneath the sea; how this
desire being granted he loved and pursued the sea-nymph Scylla, and she
feared and fled him; how then he asked the aid of the enchantress Circe,
who made him her thrall and lapped him in sensual delights while Scylla
was forgotten. How the witch, the 'arbitrary queen of sense,' one day
revealed her true character, and 'specious heaven was changed to real
hell.' (Is Keats here remembering the closing couplet of Shakespeare's
great sonnet against lust--

  This all the world well knows; but none know well
  To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell?)

He came upon her torturing her crowd of spell-bound animals, once human
beings, fled in terror at the sight, was overtaken, and with savage
taunts driven back into his ocean-home. Here he found Scylla cold and
dead, killed by Circe's arts. (In the original myth as told by Ovid and
others Glaucus refuses the temptations of Circe, who in revenge inflicts
on Scylla a worse punishment than death, transforming her into a
sea-monster engirdled with a pack of ravening dogs and stationed as a
terror to mariners at the Straits over against Charybdis). Glaucus then
tells how he conveyed the body of his dead love to a niche in a vacant
under-sea temple, where she still remains. Then began the doom of
paralysed and helpless senility which the enchantress had condemned him
to endure for a thousand years and which still binds him fast,--a doom
which inevitably reminds us of such stories as that of the Fisherman in
the _Arabian Nights_, and of the spell laid by Suleiman upon the
rebellious Djinn, whom he imprisoned for a thousand and eight hundred
years in a bottle until the Fisherman released him.

Glaucus goes on to relate how once, in the course of his miserable
spell-bound existence, he witnessed the drowning of a shipwrecked crew
with agony at his own helplessness, and in trying vainly to rescue a
sinking old man by the hand found himself left with a wand and scroll
which the old man had held. Reading the scroll, he found in it
comfortable words of hope and wisdom. (Note that it was through an
attempted act of human succour that this wisdom came to him). If he
would have patience, so ran the promise of the scroll, to probe all the
depths of magic and the hidden secrets of nature--if moreover he would
piously through the centuries make it his business to lay side by side
in sanctuary all bodies of lovers drowned at sea--there would one day
come to him a heaven-favoured youth to whom he would be able to teach
the rites necessary for his deliverance. He recognizes the predestined
youth in Endymion, who on learning the nature of the promise accepts
joyfully his share in the prescribed duty, with the attendant risk of
destruction to both if they fail. The young man and the old--or rather
'the young soul in age's mask'--go together to the submarine hall of
burial where Scylla and the multitude of drowned lovers lie enshrined.
As to the rites that follow and their effect, let us have them in the
poet's own words:--

                                 'Let us commence,'
  Whisper'd the guide, stuttering with joy, 'even now.'
  He spake, and, trembling like an aspen-bough,
  Began to tear his scroll in pieces small,
  Uttering the while some mumblings funeral.
  He tore it into pieces small as snow
  That drifts unfeather'd when bleak northerns blow;
  And having done it, took his dark blue cloak
  And bound it round Endymion: then struck
  His wand against the empty air times nine.--
  'What more there is to do, young man, is thine:
  But first a little patience; first undo
  This tangled thread, and wind it to a clue.
  Ah, gentle! 'tis as weak as spider's skein;
  And shouldst thou break it--What, is it done so clean
  A power overshadows thee! O, brave!
  The spite of hell is tumbling to its grave.
  Here is a shell; 'tis pearly blank to me,
  Nor mark'd with any sign or charactery--
  Canst thou read aught? O read for pity's sake!
  Olympus! we are safe! Now, Carian, break
  This wand against yon lyre on the pedestal.'

  'Twas done: and straight with sudden swell and fall
  Sweet music breath'd her soul away, and sigh'd
  A lullaby to silence.--'Youth! now strew
  These minced leaves on me, and passing through
  Those files of dead, scatter the same around,
  And thou wilt see the issue.'--'Mid the sound
  Of flutes and viols, ravishing his heart,
  Endymion from Glaucus stood apart,
  And scatter'd in his face some fragments light.
  How lightning-swift the change! a youthful wight
  Smiling beneath a coral diadem
  Out-sparkling sudden like an upturn'd gem,
  Appear'd, and, stepping to a beauteous corse,
  Kneel'd down beside it, and with tenderest force
  Press'd its cold hand, and wept,--and Scylla sigh'd!
  Endymion, with quick hand, the charm apply'd--
  The nymph arose: he left them to their joy,
  And onward went upon his high employ,
  Showering those powerful fragments on the dead.
  And as he passed, each lifted up his head,
  As doth a flower at Apollo's touch.
  Death felt it to his inwards: 'twas too much:
  Death fell a weeping in his charnel-house.
  The Latmian persever'd along, and thus
  All were re-animated. There arose
  A noise of harmony, pulses and throes
  Of gladness in the air--while many, who
  Had died in mutual arms devout and true,
  Sprang to each other madly; and the rest
  Felt a high certainty of being blest.
  They gaz'd upon Endymion. Enchantment
  Grew drunken, and would have its head and bent.
  Delicious symphonies, like airy flowers,
  Budded, and swell'd, and, full-blown, shed full showers
  Of light, soft, unseen leaves of sounds divine.
  The two deliverers tasted a pure wine
  Of happiness, from fairy-press ooz'd out.
  Speechless they ey'd each other, and about
  The fair assembly wander'd to and fro,
  Distracted with the richest overflow
  Of joy that ever pour'd from heaven.

The whole long Glaucus and Scylla episode filling the third book, and
especially this its climax, has to many lovers and students of Keats
proved a riddle hard of solution. And indeed at first reading the
meaning of its strange incidents and imagery, beautiful as is much of
the poetry in which they are told, looks obscure enough. Every definite
clue to their interpretation seems to elude us as we lay hold of it,
like the drowned man who sinks through the palsied grasp of Glaucus. But
bearing in mind what we have recognized as the general scope and
symbolic meaning of the poem, does not the main purport of the Glaucus
book, on closer study, emerge clearly as something like this? The spirit
touched with the divine beam of Cynthia--that is aspiring to and chosen
for communion with essential Beauty--in other words the spirit of the
Poet--must prepare itself for its high calling, first by purging away
the selfishness of its private passion in sympathy with human loves and
sorrows, and next by acquiring a full store alike of human experience
and of philosophic thought and wisdom. Endymion, endowed by favour of
the gods with the poetic gift and passion, has only begun to awaken to
sympathy and acquire knowledge when he meets Glaucus, whose history has
made him rich in all that Endymion yet lacks, including as it does the
forfeiting of simple everyday life and usefulness for the exercise of a
perilous superhuman gift; the desertion, under a spell of evil magic, of
a pure for an impure love; the tremendous penalty which has to be paid
for this plunge into sensual debasement; the painful acquisition of the
gift of righteous magic, or knowledge of the secrets of nature and
mysteries of life and death, by prolonged intensity of study, and the
patient exercise of the duties of pious tenderness towards the bodies of
the drowned. At the approach of Endymion the sage recognizes in him the
predestined poet, and hastens to make over to him, as to one more
divinely favoured than himself, all the dower of his dearly bought
wisdom; in possession of which the poet is enabled to work miracles of
joy and healing and to confer immortality on dead lovers.

As to the significance in detail of the rites by which the transfer of
power is effected, we are again helped by remembering that Keats was
mixing up with his classic myth ideas taken from the _Thousand and One
Nights_. Let the student turn to the Glaucus and Circe episodes of
Ovid's _Metamorphoses_, and then refresh his memory of certain Arabian
tales, particularly that of Bebr Salim, with its kings and queens of the
sea living and moving under water as easily as on land, its repeated
magical transformations and layings on and taking off of enchantments,
and the adventures of the hero with queen Lab, the Oriental counterpart
of Circe,--let the student refresh his memory from these sources, and
the proceedings of this episode will no longer seem so strange. In the
Arabian tales, and for that matter in western tales of magic also, the
commonest method of annulling enchantments is by sprinkling with water
over which words of power have been spoken. Under sea you cannot
sprinkle with water, so Keats makes Endymion use for sprinkling the
shredded fragments of the scroll taken by Glaucus from the drowned man.
First Glaucus tears the scroll, uttering 'some mumblings funeral' as he
does so (compare the 'backward mutters of dissevering power' in Milton's
_Comus_). Then follows a series of actions showing that the hour has
come for him to surrender and make over his powers and virtues to the
new comer. First he invests Endymion with his own magic robe. Then he
waves his magic wand nine times in the air,--as a preliminary to the
last exercise of its power? or as a sign that its power is exhausted?
Nine is of course a magic number, and the immediate suggestion comes
from the couplet in Sandys's Ovid where Glaucus tells how the sea-gods
admitted him to their fellowship,--

  Whom now they hallow, and with charms nine times
  Repeated, purge me from my human crimes.

The disentangling of the skein and the perceiving and deciphering of
runes on the shell[10] which to Glaucus is a blank are evidently tests
Endymion has to undergo before it is proved and confirmed that he is
really the predestined poet, gifted to unravel and interpret mysteries
beyond the ken of mere philosophy. The breaking of the philosopher's
wand against the lyre suspended from its pedestal, followed by an
outburst of ravishing music, is a farther and not too obscure piece of
symbolism shadowing forth the surrender and absorption of the powers of
study and research into the higher powers of poetic intuition and
inspiration. And then comes the general disenchantment and awakening of
the drowned multitude to life and happiness.

The parable breaks off at this point, and the book closes with a
submarine pageant imagined, it would seem, almost singly for the
pageant's sake; perhaps also partly in remembrance of Spenser's festival
of the sea-gods at the marriage of Thames and Medway in the fourth book
of the _Faerie Queene_. The rejuvenated Glaucus bids the whole beautiful
multitude follow him to pay their homage to Neptune: they obey: the
first crowd of lovers restored to life meets a second crowd on the sand,
and some in either crowd recognize and happily pair off with their lost
ones in the other. All approach in procession the palace of
Neptune--another marvel of vast and vague jewelled and translucent
architectural splendours--and find the god presiding on an emerald
throne between Venus and Cupid. Glaucus and Scylla receive the blessing
of Neptune and Venus respectively, and Venus addresses Endymion in a
speech of arch encouragement, where the poet's style (as almost always
in moments of his hero's prosperous love) turns common and tasteless.
Dance and revelry follow, and then a hymn to Neptune, Venus, and Cupid.
This is interrupted by the entrance of Oceanus and a train of Nereids.
The presence of all these immortals is too much for Endymion's human
senses: he swoons; a ring of Nereids lift and carry him tenderly away;
he is aware of a message of hope and cheer from his goddess, written in
starlight on the dark; and when he comes to himself, finds that he is
restored to earth, lying on the grass beside a forest pool in his native
Caria.

BOOK IV. In this book Endymion has to make his last discovery. He has to
learn that all transient and secondary loves, which may seem to come
between him and his great ideal pursuit and lure him away from it, are
really, when the truth is known, but encouragements to that pursuit,
visitations and condescensions to him of his celestial love in disguise.
The narrative setting forth this discovery is pitched in a key which,
following the triumphant close of the last book, seems curiously subdued
and melancholy. An opening apostrophe by the poet to the Muse of his
native land, long silent while Greece and Italy sang, but aroused in the
fulness of time to happy utterance, begins joyously enough, but ends on
no more confident note than this:--

            Great Muse, thou know'st what prison
  Of flesh and bone, curbs, and confines, and frets
  Our spirit's wings: despondency besets
  Our pillows; and the fresh to-morrow morn
  Seems to give forth its light in very scorn
  Of our dull, uninspir'd, snail-paced lives.
  Long have I said, how happy he who shrives
  To thee! But then I thought on poets gone,
  And could not pray:--nor could I now--so on
  I move to the end in lowliness of heart.--

Keats then tells how his hero, paying his vows to the gods, is
interrupted by the plaint of a forsaken Indian damsel which reaches him
through the forest undergrowth. (Such a damsel lying back on the grass
with her arms among her hair had dwelt, I think, in the poet's mind's
eye from pictures by or prints after Poussin ever since hospital and
early Hunt days, and had been haunting him when he scribbled his
attempted scrap of an Alexander romance in a fellow student's notebook).
Endymion listens and approaches: the poet foresees and deplores the
coming struggle between his hero's celestial love and this earthly
beauty disconsolate at his feet. The damsel, speaking to herself,
laments her loneliness, and tells how she could find it in her heart to
love this shepherd youth, and how love is lord of all. Endymion falls to
pitying and from pitying into loving her. Though without sense of
treachery to his divine mistress, he is torn by the contention within
him between this new earthly and his former heavenly flame. He goes on
to declare the struggle is killing him, and entreats the damsel to sing
him a song of India to ease his passing. Her song, telling of her
desolation before and after she was swept from home in the train of
Bacchus and his rout and again since she fell out of the march, is, in
spite of one or two unfortunate blemishes, among the most moving and
original achievements of English lyric poetry. Endymion is wholly
overcome, and in a speech of somewhat mawkish surrender gives himself to
the new earthly love, not blindly, but realizing fully what he forfeits.
He bids the damsel--

  Do gently murder half my soul, and I
  Shall feel the other half so utterly.

A cry of 'Woe to Endymion!' echoing through the forest has no sooner
alarmed the lovers than there is a sudden apparition of Mercury
descending. The gods intend for Endymion an unexpected issue from his
perplexities. Their messenger touches the ground with his wand and
vanishes: two raven-black winged horses rise through the ground where he
has touched,--the horses, no doubt, of the imagination, the same or of
the same breed as those 'steeds with streamy manes' that paw up against
the light and trample along the ridges of the clouds in _Sleep and
Poetry_. Endymion mounts the damsel on one and himself mounts the other:
they are borne aloft together,

                                --unseen, alone,
  Among cool clouds and winds, but that the free,
  The buoyant life of song, can floating be
  Above their heads, and follow them untired.

The poet, seeming to realize that the most difficult part of his tale is
now to tell, again invokes the native Muse, and relates how the lovers,
couched on the wings of the raven steeds, enter on their flight a zone
of mists enfolding the couch of Sleep, who has been drawn from his cave
by the rumour of the coming nuptials of a goddess with a mortal. The
narrative is here very obscure, but seems to run thus. Alike the magic
steed and the lovers reclining on their wings yield to the influence of
sleep, but still drift on their aerial course. As they drift, Endymion
dreams that he has been admitted to Olympus. In his dream he drinks of
Hebe's cup, tries the bow of Apollo and the shield of Pallas; blows a
bugle which summons the Seasons and the Hours to a dance; asks whose
bugle it is and learns that it is Diana's; the next moment she is there
in presence; he springs to his now recognized goddess, and in the act he
awakes, and it is a case of Adam's dream having come true; he is aware
of Diana and the other celestials present bending over him. On the
horse-plume couch beside him lies the Indian maiden: the conflict
between his two loves is distractingly renewed within him, though some
instinct again tells him that he is not really untrue to either. He
embraces the Indian damsel as she sleeps; the goddess disappears; the
damsel awakes; he pleads with her, says that his other love is free from
all malice or revenge and that in his soul he feels true to both.

          What is this soul then? Whence
  Came it? It does not seem my own, and I
  Have no self-passion nor identity.

This charge, be it noted, is one which Keats in his private thoughts was
constantly apt to bring against himself. Foreseeing disaster and the
danger of losing both his loves and being left solitary, Endymion
nevertheless rouses the steeds to a renewed ascent. He and the damsel
are borne towards the milky way, in a mystery of loving converse: the
crescent moon appears from a cloud, facing them: Endymion turns to the
damsel at his side and finds her gone gaunt and cold and ghostly: a
moment more and she is not there at all but vanished: her horse parts
company from his, towers, and falls to earth. He is left alone on his
further ascent, abandoned for the moment by both the objects of his
passion, the celestial and the human. His spirit enters into a region,
or phase, of involved and brooding misery and thence into one of
contented apathy: he is scarcely even startled, though his steed is, by
a flight of celestial beings blowing trumpets and proclaiming a coming
festival of Diana. In a choral song they invite the signs and
constellations to the festival: (the picture of the Borghese Zodiac in
Spence's _Polymetis_ has evidently given Keats his suggestion here).
Then suddenly Endymion hears no more and is aware that his courser has
in a moment swept him down to earth again.

He finds himself on a green hillside with the Indian maiden beside him,
and in a long impassioned protestation renounces his past dreams,
condemns his presumptuous neglect of human and earthly joys, and
declares his intention to live alone with her for ever and (not
forgetting to propitiate the Olympians) to shower upon her all the
treasures of the pastoral earth:--

                                O I have been
  Presumptuous against love, against the sky,
  Against all elements, against the tie
  Of mortals each to each, against the blooms
  Of flowers, rush of rivers, and the tombs
  Of heroes gone! Against his proper glory
  Has my own soul conspired: so my story
  Will I to children utter, and repent.
  There never liv'd a mortal man, who bent
  His appetite beyond his natural sphere,
  But starv'd and died. My sweetest Indian, here,
  Here will I kneel, for thou redeemed hast
  My life from too thin breathing: gone and past
  Are cloudy phantasms. Caverns lone, farewell!
  And air of visions, and the monstrous swell
  Of visionary seas! No, never more
  Shall airy voices cheat me to the shore
  Of tangled wonder, breathless and aghast.

Here Keats spins and puts into the mouth of Endymion wooing the Indian
maiden a long, and in some at least of its verses exquisite, pastoral
fantasia recalling, and no doubt partly founded on, the famous passage
in Ovid, itself founded on one equally famous in Theocritus, where
Polyphemus woos the nymph Galatea.[11] Apparently, though it was through
sympathy with the human sorrow of the Indian damsel that Endymion has
first been caught, he proposes to enjoy her society now in detachment
from all other human ties as well as from all transcendental dreams and
ambitions.

But the damsel is aware of matters which prevent her from falling in
with her lover's desires. She puts him off, saying that she has always
loved him and longed and languished to be his, but that this joy is
forbidden her, or can only be compassed by the present death of both
(that is, to the mortal in love with the spirit of poetry and poetic
beauty no life of mere human and earthly contentment is possible); and
so she proposes to renounce him. Despondingly they wander off together
into the forest.

The poet pauses for an apostrophe to Endymion, confusedly expressed, but
vital to his whole meaning. His suffering hero, he says, had the tale
allowed, should have been enthroned in felicity before now (the word is
'ensky'd,' from _Measure for Measure_). In truth he has been so
enthroned for many thousand years (that is to say, the poetic spirit in
man has been wedded in full communion to the essential soul of Beauty
in the world): the poet, Keats himself, has had some help from him
already, and with his farther help hopes ere long to sing of his
'lute-voiced brother': that is Apollo, to whom Endymion is called
brother as being espoused to his sister Diana. This is the first
intimation of Keats's intention to write on the story of Hyperion's fall
and the advent of Apollo. But the present tale, signifies Keats, has not
yet got to that point, and must now be resumed.

Endymion rests beside the damsel in a part of the forest where every
tree and stream and slope might have reminded him of his boyish sports,
but his downcast eyes fail to recognize them. Peona appears; he dreads
their meeting, but without cause; interpreting things by their obvious
appearance she sweetly welcomes the stranger as the bride her brother
has brought home after his mysterious absence, and bids them both to a
festival the shepherds are to hold tonight in honour of Cynthia, in
whose aspect the soothsayers have read good omens. Still Endymion does
not brighten; Peona asks the stranger why, and craves her help with him;
Endymion with a great effort, 'twanging his soul like a spiritual bow',
says that after all he has gone through he must not partake in the
common and selfish pleasures of men, lest he should forfeit higher
pleasures and render himself incapable of the services for which he has
disciplined himself; that henceforth he must live as a hermit, visited
by none but his sister Peona. To her care he at the same time commends
the Indian lady: who consents to go with her, and remembering the
approaching festival of Diana says she will take part in it and
consecrate herself to that sisterhood and to chastity.

For a while they all three feel like people in sleep struggling with
oppressive dreams and making believe to think them every-day
experiences. Endymion tries to ease the strain by bidding them farewell.
They go off dizzily, he stares distressfully after them and at last
cries to them to meet him for a last time the same evening in the grove
behind Diana's temple. They disappear; he is left in sluggish desolation
till sunset, when he goes to keep his tryst at the temple, musing first
with bitterness, then with a resigned prescience of coming death (the
mood of the _Nightingale Ode_ appearing here in Keats's work for the
first time): then bitterly again:--

                                    I did wed
  Myself to things of light from infancy;
  And thus to be cast out, thus lorn to die
  Is sure enough to make a mortal man
  Grow impious. So he inwardly began
  On things for which no wording can be found;
  Deeper and deeper sulking, until drown'd
  Beyond the reach of music: for the choir
  Of Cynthia he heard not, though rough briar
  Nor muffling thicket interpos'd to dull
  The vesper hymn, far swollen, soft and full,
  Through the dark pillars of those sylvan aisles.
  He saw not the two maidens, nor their smiles,
  Wan as primroses gather'd at midnight
  By chilly finger'd spring. 'Unhappy wight!
  Endymion!' said Peona, 'we are here!
  What wouldst thou ere we all are laid on bier?'
  Then he embrac'd her, and his lady's hand
  Press'd saying: 'Sister, I would have command,
  If it were heaven's will, on our sad fate.'
  At which that dark-eyed stranger stood elate
  And said, in a new voice, but sweet as love,
  To Endymion's amaze: 'By Cupid's dove,
  And so thou shalt! and by the lily truth
  Of my own breast thou shalt, beloved youth!'
  And as she spake, into her face there came
  Light, as reflected from a silver flame:
  Her long black hair swell'd ampler, in display
  Full golden; in her eyes a brighter day
  Dawn'd blue and full of love. Aye, he beheld
  Phoebe, his passion!

And so the quest is ended, and the mystery solved. _Vera incessu patuit
dea_: the forsaken Indian maiden had been but a disguised incarnation of
Cynthia herself. Endymion's earthly passion, born of human pity and
desire, was one all the while, had he but known it, with his heavenly
passion born of poetic aspiration and the soul's thirst for Beauty. The
two passions at their height and perfection are inseparable, and the
crowned poet and the crowned lover are one. But these things are still a
mystery to those who know not poetry, and when the happy lovers
disappear the kind ministering sister Peona can only marvel:--

                                  Peona went
  Home through the gloomy wood in wonderment.

The poem ends on no such note of joy and triumph over the attained
consummation as we might have expected and such as we found at the close
of the third book, at the point where the faculty and vision of the poet
had been happily enriched and completed by the gift of the learning and
beneficence of the sage. The fourth book closes, as it began, in a minor
key, leaving the reader, like Peona, in a mood rather musing than
rejoicing. Is this because Keats had tired of his task before he came to
the end, or because the low critical opinion of his own work which he
had been gradually forming took the heart out of him, so that as he drew
near the goal he involuntarily let his mind run on the hindrances and
misgivings which beset the poetic aspirant on his way to victory more
than on the victory itself? Or was it partly because of the numbing
influence of early winter as recorded in the last chapter? We cannot
tell.

But why take all this trouble, the reader may well have asked before
now, to follow the argument and track the wanderings of Endymion book by
book, when everyone knows that the poem is only admirable for its
incidental beauties and is neither read nor well readable for its story?
The answer is that the intricacy and obscurity of the narrative, taken
merely as a narrative, are such as to tire the patience of many readers
in their search for beautiful passages and to dull their enjoyment of
them when found; but once the inner and symbolic meanings of the poem
are recognized, even in gleams, their recognition gives it a quite new
hold upon the attention. And in order to trace these meanings and
disengage them with any clearness a fairly close examination and
detailed argument are necessary. It is not with simple matters of
personification, of the putting of initial capitals to abstract
qualities, that we have to deal, nor yet with any obvious and
deliberately thought-out allegory; still less is it with one purposely
made riddling and obscure; it is with a vital, subtly involved and
passionately tentative spiritual parable, the parable of the experiences
of the poetic soul in man seeking communion with the spirit of essential
Beauty in the world, invented and related, in the still uncertain dawn
of his powers, by one of the finest natural-born and intuitively gifted
poets who ever lived. This is a thing which stands almost alone in
literature, and however imperfectly executed is worth any closeness and
continuity of attention we can give it. Having now studied, to the best
of our power, the sources and scheme of the poem, with its symbolism and
inner meanings so far as they can with any confidence be traced, let us
pass to the consideration of its technical and poetical qualities and
its relation to the works of certain other poets and poems of Keats's
time.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] In the old Grecian world, the Endymion myth, or rather an
    Endymion myth, for like other myths it had divers forms, was rooted
    deeply in the popular traditions both of Elis in the Peloponnese, and
    of the Ionian cities about the Latmian gulf in Caria. The central
    feature of the Carian legend was the nightly descent of the
    moon-goddess Seléné to kiss her lover, the shepherd prince Endymion,
    where he lay spell-bound, by the grace of Zeus, in everlasting sleep
    and everlasting youth on Mount Latmos. This legend was early
    crystallized in a lyric poem of Sappho now lost, and thereafter
    became part of the common heritage of Greek and Roman popular
    mythology. The separate moon-goddess, Seléné for the Greeks and Luna
    for the Romans, got merged in course of time in the multiform
    divinities of the Greek Artemis and the Roman Diana respectively; so
    that in modern literatures derived from the Latin it is always of
    Diana (or what is the same thing, of Cynthia or Phoebe) that the tale
    is told. It is not given at length in any of our extant classical
    writings, but only by way of allusion in some of the poets, as
    Theocritus, Apollonius Rhodius, and Ovid, and in Cicero and some of
    the late Greek prose-writers, as Lucian, Apollodorus, and Pausanias.
    From these it passed at the Renaissance into the current European
    stock of classical imagery and reference.

  [2] In another place, Browne makes Endymion shut out from the favour
    of Cynthia stand figuratively for Raleigh in disgrace with Elizabeth:
    just as in Lyly's comedy the myth had been turned into an allegory of
    contemporary court intrigue, with Elizabeth for Cynthia, Leicester
    for Endymion, Tellus for Mary Queen of Scots, Eumenides for Sidney,
    and so forth.

  [3] _Endymion_, iii. 196-209.

  [4] _Endymion_, ii. 569-572 and 908-916.

  [5] _Metam._ i. 26-31, Englished thus by Sandys:--

      Forthwith upsprung the quick and weightless Fire,
      Whose flames unto the highest Arch aspire:
      The next, in levity and peace, is Air:
      Gross elements to thicker Earth repair
      Self-clogg'd with weight: the Waters flowing round
      Possess the last, and solid Tellus bound.

  [6] Keats was more widely read in out-of-the-way French literature
    than could have been expected from his opportunities, and there are
    passages in _Endymion_ which run closely parallel to Gombauld's
    romance, notably the first apparition of Cynthia, with the
    description of her hair (_End._ i, 605-618), and the account of the
    sudden distaste which afterwards seizes him for former pleasures and
    companions. But these may be mere coincidences, and the whole series
    of the hero's subsequent adventures according to Gombauld, his
    dream-flight to the Caspian under the spell of the Thessalian
    enchantress Ismene, and all the weird things that befall him there,
    are entirely unlike anything that happens in Keats's poem.

  [7] The authority for this story is the late Sir B. W. Richardson,
    professing to quote verbatim as follows from Mr Stephens' own
    statement to him in conversation.

    'One evening in the twilight, the two students sitting together,
    Stephens at his medical studies, Keats at his dreaming, Keats breaks
    out to Stephens that he has composed a new line:--

      A thing of beauty is a constant joy.

    "What think you of that, Stephens?" "It has the true ring, but is
    wanting in some way," replies the latter, as he dips once more into
    his medical studies. An interval of silence, and again the poet:--

      A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

    "What think you of that, Stephens?" "That it will live for ever."'

    The conversation as thus related at second hand reads certainly as
    though it had been more or less dressed up for effect, but we cannot
    suppose the circumstance to have been wholly invented. A careful
    reading of the first twenty-four lines of _Endymion_ will show that
    they have close affinities with much both in _Sleep and Poetry_ and
    '_I stood tip-toe_' in thought as well as style, and especially in
    their manner of bringing together, by reason of the common property
    of beauty, things otherwise so unlike as the cloak of weeds which
    rivulets are conceived as making to keep themselves cool in
    summertime (compare '_I stood tip-toe_' II. 80-84) musk-roses in a
    woodland brake (compare _Sleep and Poetry_ I. 5), the life of great
    spirits after death, and beautiful stories in general. My own
    inference is that Keats, having written these two dozen lines some
    time in 1816, used them the next spring as a suitable exordium for
    _Endymion_, and added the following lines, 25-33, as a (somewhat
    clumsy) transition to the actual beginning of the poem 'Therefore
    with full happiness,' etc., as written at Carisbrooke.

  [8] There is a certain, though slight enough, resemblance between
    some of these underground incidents and those which happen in a
    romance of travel, which Keats may very well have read, the _Voyage
    d'Anténor_, then popular both in France and in an English
    translation. Anténor is permitted by the Egyptian priests to pass
    through the triple ordeal by fire, water, and air contrived by them
    in the vast subterranean vaults under the temple of Osiris. The
    points of most resemblance are the suspended guiding light seen from
    within the entrance, the rushing of the water streams, and the ascent
    by a path between balustrades. The _Voyage d'Anténor_ was itself
    founded on an earlier and much rarer French romance, _Sethos_, and
    both were freely and avowedly imitated by Thomas Moore in his prose
    tale, the _Epicurean_ (1827). Mr Robert Bridges has noticed a point
    in common between _Endymion_ and the _Epicurean_ in the sudden
    breaking off or crumbling away of the balustrade under the wayfarer's
    feet. This does not occur in _Sethos_ or _Anténor_, and was probably
    borrowed by Moore from Keats.

  [9] How familiar, both with the text and the translator's commentary,
    is proved by his adopting as his own, almost literally, a phrase
    which Sandys brings in by way of illustrative comment from the
    _Imagines_ (a description of an imaginary picture-gallery) of
    Philostratus. Philostratus, coming to a picture of Glaucus, tells how
    the painter had given him 'thick and arched eyebrows which touched
    one another.' Keats writes,--

                                    his snow-white brows
      _Went arching up_, and like two magic ploughs
      Furrowed deep wrinkles in his forehead large.

    It was the look and expression of Keats in reciting this same phrase,
    the reader will remember, which so struck Bailey that he found
    himself vividly recalling it thirty years later (see above, p. 144).

  [10] Mr Mackail sees in this shell and its secret characters a
    reminiscence of the mystic shell, which is also a book, carried in
    the right hand of the sheikh who is also Don Quixote in the dream
    narrated by Wordsworth in the third book of _The Prelude_. I owe so
    very much of the interpretation above attempted to Mr Mackail that I
    am bound to record his opinion: but as I shall show later (p. 251),
    it is scarcely possible that any passages from _The Prelude_ should
    have come to Keats's knowledge until after _Endymion_ was finished.

  [11] Ovid, _Metam._ xiii, 810-840; Theocr. _Idyll_. xi, 30 _sqq._



CHAPTER VII

_ENDYMION._--II. THE POETRY: ITS QUALITIES AND AFFINITIES

  Revival of Elizabethan usages--Avoidance of closed couplets--True
  metrical instincts--An example--Rime too much his master--Lax use of
  words--Flaws of taste and training--Faults and beauties
  inseparable--Homage to the moon--A parallel from Drayton--Examples of
  nature-poetry--Nature and the Greek spirit--Greek mythology
  revitalized--Its previous deadness--Poetry of love and war--Dramatic
  promise--Comparison with models--Sandys's _Ovid--Hymn to Pan_:
  Chapman--Ben Jonson--The hymn in _Endymion_--'A pretty piece of
  paganism'--Song of the Indian maiden--The triumph of Bacchus--A
  composite: its sources--English scenery and detail--Influence of
  Wordsworth--Influence of Shelley--_Endymion_ and
  _Alastor_--Correspondences and contrasts--_Hymn to Intellectual
  Beauty_--Shelley on _Endymion_--Keats and Clarence's dream--Shelley a
  borrower--Shelley and the rimed couplet.


Throughout the four books of _Endymion_ we find Keats still working,
more even than in his epistles and meditations of the year before, under
the spell of Elizabethan and early Jacobean poetry. Spenser and the
Spenserians, foremost among them William Browne; Drayton in his
pastorals and elegies; Shakespeare, especially in his early poems and
comedies; Fletcher and Ben Jonson in pastoral and lyrical work like _The
Faithful Shepherdess_ or _The Sad Shepherd_; Chapman's version of Homer,
especially the _Odyssey_ and the _Hymns_, and Sandys's of the
_Metamorphoses_ of Ovid; these are the masters and the models of whom we
feel his mind and ear to be full. In their day the English language had
been to a large extent unfixed, and in their instinctive efforts to
enrich and expand and supple it, poets had enjoyed a wide range of
freedom both in maintaining old and in experimenting with new usages.
Many of the liberties they used were renounced by the differently minded
age which followed them, and the period from the Restoration, roughly
speaking, to the middle years of George III had in matters of literary
form and style been one of steadily tightening restriction and
convention. Then ensued the period of expansion, in which Wordsworth and
Coleridge and Scott had been the most conspicuous leaders, each after
his manner, in reconquering the freedom of poetry. Other innovators had
followed suit, including Leigh Hunt in that slippered, sentimental,
Italianate fashion of his own. And now came young Keats, not following
closely along the paths opened by any of these, though closer to Leigh
Hunt than to the others, but making a deliberate return to certain
definite and long abandoned usages of the English poets during the
illustrious half century from 1590-1640. He chose the heroic couplet,
and in handling it reversed the settled practice of more than a century.
He was even more sedulous than any of his Elizabethan or Jacobean
masters to achieve variety of pause and movement by avoiding the regular
beat of the closed couplet; while in framing his style he did not
scruple to revive all or nearly all those licences of theirs which the
intervening age had disallowed. There was a special rashness in his
attempt considering the slightness of his own critical equipment, and
considering also the strength of the long riveted fetters which he
undertook to break and the charges of affectation and impertinence which
such a revival of obsolete metrical and verbal usages--the marks of what
Pope had denounced as 'our rustic vein And splay-foot verse'--was bound
to bring against him.

First of his revolutionary treatment of the metre. He no longer uses
double or feminine endings, as in his epistles of the year before, with
a profusion like that of _Britannia's Pastorals_. They occur, but in
moderation, hardly more than a score of them in any one of the four
books. At the beginning he tries often, but afterwards gives up, an
occasional trick of the Elizabethan and earlier poets in riming on the
unstressed second syllables of words such as 'dancing' (rimed with
'string'), 'elbow' (with 'slow'), 'velvet' (with 'set'), 'purplish'
(with 'fish'). On the other hand he regularly resolves the 'tion' or
'shion' termination into its full two syllables, the last carrying the
rime, as--'With speed of five-tailed exhalations:' 'Before the deep
intoxication;' 'Vanish'd in elemental passion;' and the like. He admits
closed couplets, but very grudgingly, as a general rule in the
proportion of not more than one to eight or ten of the unclosed. He
seldom allows himself even so much of a continuous run of them as
this:--

  Moreover, through the dancing poppies stole
  A breeze most softly lulling to my soul;
  And shaping visions all about my sight
  Of colours, wings, and bursts of spangly light;
  The which became more strange, and strange, and dim,
  And then were gulph'd in a tumultuous swim:

Or this:--

  So in that crystal place, in silent rows,
  Poor lovers lay at rest from joys and woes.--
  The stranger from the mountains, breathless, trac'd
  Such thousands of shut eyes in order plac'd;
  Such ranges of white feet, and patient lips
  All ruddy,--for here death no blossom nips.
  He mark'd their brows and foreheads; saw their hair
  Put sleekly on one side with nicest care.

The essential principle of his versification is to let sentences,
prolonged and articulated as freely and naturally as in prose, wind
their way in and out among the rimes, the full pause often splitting a
couplet by falling at the end of the first line, and oftener still (in
the proportion of two or three times to one) breaking up a single line
in the middle or at any point of its course. Sense and sound flow
habitually over from one couplet to the next without logical or
grammatical pause, but to keep the sense of metre present to the ear
Keats commonly takes care that the second line of a couplet shall end
with a fully stressed rime-word such as not only allows, but actually
invites, at least a momentary breathing-pause to follow it. It is only
in the rarest cases that he compels the breath to hurry on with no
chance of stress or after-rest from a light preposition at the end of a
line to its object at the beginning of the next ('on | His left,' 'upon
| A dreary morning'), or from an auxiliary to its verb ('as might be |
Remembered') or from a comparative particle to the thing compared
('sleeker than | Night-swollen mushrooms'); a practice in which Chapman,
Ben Jonson, Fletcher, and their contemporaries indulged, as we have
seen, freely, and which afterwards developed into a fatal disease of the
metre. Keats's musical and metrical instincts were too fine, and his ear
too early trained in the 'sweet-slipping' movement of Spenser, to let
him fall often into this fault. To the other besetting fault of some of
these masters, that of a harsh and jolting ruggedness, he was still less
prone. Although he chooses to forgo that special effect of combined
vigour and smoothness proper to the closed couplet, he always knows how
to make a rich and varied music with his vowel sounds; while the same
fine natural instinct for sentence-structure as distinguishes the prose
of his letters makes itself felt in his verse, so that wherever he has
need to place a full stop he can make his sentence descend upon it
smoothly and skimmingly, like a seabird on the sea.[1] The long passage
quoted from Book III in the last chapter illustrates the narrative verse
of _Endymion_ in nearly all its moods and variations. Here is a
characteristic example of its spoken or dramatic verse. Endymion
supplicates his goddess from underground:--

                                 O Haunter chaste
  Of river sides, and woods, and heathy waste,
  Where with thy silver bow and arrows keen
  Art thou now forested? O Woodland Queen,
  What smoothest air thy smoother forehead woos?
  Where dost thou listen to the wide halloos
  Of thy disparted nymphs? Through what dark tree
  Glimmers thy crescent? Wheresoe'er it be,
  'Tis in the breath of heaven: thou dost taste
  Freedom as none can taste it, nor dost waste
  Thy loveliness in dismal elements;
  But, finding in our green earth sweet contents,
  There livest blissfully. Ah, if to thee
  It feels Elysian, how rich to me,
  An exil'd mortal, sounds its pleasant name!
  Within my breast there lives a choking flame--
  O let me cool't the zephyr-boughs among!
  A homeward fever parches up my tongue--
  O let me slake it at the running springs!
  Upon my ear a noisy nothing rings--
  O let me once more hear the linnet's note!
  Before mine eyes thick films and shadows float--
  O let me 'noint them with the heaven's light!
  Dost thou now lave thy feet and ankles white?
  O think how sweet to me the freshening sluice!
  Dost thou now please thy thirst with berry-juice?
  O think how this dry palate would rejoice!
  If in soft slumber thou dost hear my voice,
  O think how I should love a bed of flowers!--

The first fifteen lines of the above are broken and varied much in
Keats's usual way: in the following fourteen it is to be noted how he
throws the speaker's alternate complaints of his predicament and prayers
for release from it not into twinned but into split or parted couplets,
making each prayer rime not with the complaint which calls it forth but
with the new complaint which is to follow it: a bold and to my ear a
happy sacrifice of obvious rhetorical effect to his predilection for the
suspended or delayed rime-echo.

Rime is to some poets a stiff and grudging but to others an officious
servant, over-active in offering suggestions to the mind; and no poet is
rightly a master until he has learnt how to sift those suggestions,
rejecting many and accepting only the fittest. Keats in _Endymion_ has
not reached nor come near reaching this mastery: in the flush and
eagerness of composition he is content to catch at almost any and every
suggestion of the rime, no matter how far-fetched and irrelevant. He had
a great fore-runner in this fault in Chapman, who constantly, especially
in the _Iliad_, wrenches into his text for the rime's sake ideas that
have no kind of business there. Take the passage justly criticized by
Bailey at the beginning of the third Book:--

  There are who lord it o'er their fellow-men
  With most prevailing tinsel: who unpen
  Their baaing vanities, to browse away
  The comfortable green and juicy hay
  From human pastures; or, O torturing fact!
  Who, through an idiot blink, will see unpack'd
  Fire-branded foxes to sear up and singe
  Our gold and ripe-ear'd hopes. With not one tinge
  Of sanctuary splendour, not a sight
  Able to face an owl's, they still are dight
  By the blear-ey'd nations in empurpled vests,
  And crowns, and turbans.

Here it is obviously the need of a rime to 'men' that has suggested the
word 'unpen' and the clumsy imagery of the 'baaing sheep' which follows,
while the inappropriate and almost meaningless 'tinge of sanctuary
splendour' lower down has been imported for the sake of the foxes with
fire-brands tied to their tails which 'singe' the metaphorical
corn-sheaves (they come from the story of Samson in the Book of Judges).
Milder cases abound, as this of Circe tormenting her victims:--

                               appealing groans
  From their poor breasts went sueing to her ear
  In vain; _remorseless as an infant's bier_
  She whisk'd against their eyes the sooty oil.

                           Does yonder thrush,
  Schooling its half-fledg'd little ones to brush
  About the dewy forest, whisper tales.
  Speak not of grief, young stranger, or _cold snails
  Will slime the rose to-night_.

              He rose: he grasp'd his stole,
  With convuls'd clenches waving it abroad,
  And in a voice of solemn joy, _that aw'd
  Echo into oblivion_, he said:--

                    Yet hourly had he striven
  To hide the cankering venom, that had _riven_
  His fainting recollections.

                             The wanderer
  Holding his forehead to keep off the _burr_
  Of smothering fancies.

               Endymion! the cave is secreter
  Than the isle of Delos. Echo hence shall _stir_
  No sighs but sigh-warm kisses, or light noise
  Of thy combing hand, the while it travelling _cloys_
  And trembles through my labyrinthine hair.

In some of these cases the trouble is, not that the rime drags in a
train of far-fetched or intrusive ideas, but only that words are used
for the rime's sake in inexact and inappropriate senses. Such laxity in
the employment of words is one of the great weaknesses of Keats's style
in _Endymion_, and is no doubt partly connected with his general
disposition to treat language as though it were as free and fluid in his
own day as it had been two hundred years earlier. The same disposition
makes him reckless in turning verbs into nouns (a 'complain,' an
'exclaim,' a 'shine,' a 'pierce,' a 'quell') and nouns into verbs (to
'throe,' to 'passion,' to 'monitor,' to 'fragment up'); in using at his
convenience active verbs as passive and passive verbs as active; and in
not only reviving archaic participial forms ('dight,' 'fight,' 'raft,'
etc.) but in giving currency to participles of the class Coleridge
denounced as demoralizing to the ear, and as hybrids equivocally
generated of noun-substantives ('emblem'd,' 'gordian'd,' 'mountain'd,'
'phantasy'd'), as well as to adjectives borrowed from Elizabethan use or
new-minted more or less in accordance with it ('pipy,' 'paly,' 'ripply,'
'sluicy,' 'slumbery,' 'towery,' 'bowery,' 'orby,' 'nervy,' 'surgy,'
'sparry,' 'spangly).' It was these and such like technical liberties
with language which scandalized conservative critics, and caused even De
Quincey, becoming tardily acquainted with Keats's work, to dislike and
utterly under-rate it. He himself came before long to condemn the style
of 'the slipshod Endymion.' Nevertheless the consequence of his
experiments in reviving or imitating the usages of the great Renaissance
age of English poetry is only in part to be regretted. His rashness led
him into almost as many felicities as faults, and the examples of the
happier liberties in _Endymion_ has done much towards enriching the
vocabulary and diction of English poetry in the nineteenth century.

Other faults that more gravely mar the poem are not technical but
spiritual: intimate failures of taste and feeling due partly to mere
rawness and inexperience, partly to excessive intensity and
susceptibility of temperament, partly to second-rateness of social
training and association. A habit of cloying over-luxuriance in
description, the giving way to a sort of swooning abandonment of the
senses in contact with the 'deliciousness' of things, is the most
besetting of such faults. Allied with it is Keats's treatment of love as
an actuality, which in this poem is in unfortunate and distasteful
contrast with his high conception of love in the abstract as the
inspiring and ennobling power of the world and all things in it. Add the
propensity to make Glaucus address Scylla as 'timid thing!' and
Endymion beg for 'one gentle squeeze' from his Indian maiden, with many
a like turn in the simpering, familiar mood which Keats at this time had
caught from or naturally shared with Leigh Hunt. It should, however, be
noted as a mark of progress in self-criticism that, comparing the drafts
of the poem with the printed text, we find that in revising it for press
he had turned out more and worse passages in this vein than he left in.

From flaws or disfigurements of one or other of these kinds the poem is
never free for more than a page or two, and rarely for so much, at a
time. But granting all weaknesses and immaturities whether of form or
spirit, what a power of poetry is in _Endymion_: what evidence,
unmistakeable, one would have said, to the blindest, of genius. Did any
poet in his twenty-second year ever write with so prodigal an activity
of invention, however undisciplined and unbraced, or with an imagination
so penetrating to divine and so swift to evoke beauty? Were so many
faults and failures ever interspersed with felicities of married sound
and sense so frequent and absolute, and only to be matched in the work
of the ripest masters? Lost as the reader may often feel himself among
the phantasmagoric intricacies of the tale, cloyed by its amatory
insipidities, bewildered by the redundancies of an invention stimulated
into over-activity by any and every chance feather-touch of association
or rime-suggestion, he can afford to be patient in the certainty of
coming, from one page to another, upon touches of true and fresh
inspiration in almost every strain and mode of poetry. Often the
inspired poet and the raw cockney rimester come inseparably coupled in
the limit of half a dozen lines, as thus in the narrative of Glaucus:--

  Upon a dead thing's face my hand I laid;
  I look'd--'twas Scylla! Cursed, cursed Circe!
  O vulture-witch, hast never heard of mercy?
  Could not thy harshest vengeance be content,
  But thou must nip this tender innocent
  Because I loved her?--_Cold, O cold indeed
  Were her fair limbs, and like a common weed
  The sea-swell took her hair._

or thus from the love-making of Cynthia:--

                         Now I swear at once
  That I am wise, that Pallas is a dunce--
  Perhaps her love like mine is but unknown--
  O I do think that I have been alone
  In chastity: yes, Pallas has been sighing,
  _While every eve saw me my hair uptying,
  With fingers cool as aspen leaves_.

In like manner the unfortunate opening of Book III above cited leads on,
as Mr de Sélincourt has justly observed, to a passage in praise of the
moon which is among the very finest and best sustained examples of
Keats's power in nature-poetry. For quotation I will take not this but a
second invocation to the moon which follows a little later, for the
reason that in it the raptures and longings which the poet puts into the
mouth of his hero are really in a large measure his own:--

  What is there in thee, Moon! that thou shouldst move
  My heart so potently? When yet a child
  I oft have dry'd my tears when thou hast smil'd.
  Thou seem'dst my sister: hand in hand we went
  From eve to morn across the firmament.
  No apples would I gather from the tree,
  Till thou hadst cool'd their cheeks deliciously:
  No tumbling water ever spake romance,
  But when my eyes with thine thereon could dance:
  No woods were green enough, no bower divine,
  Until thou liftedst up thine eyelids fine:
  In sowing time ne'er would I dibble take,
  Or drop a seed, till thou wast wide awake;
  And, in the summer tide of blossoming,
  No one but thee hath heard me blythly sing
  And mesh my dewy flowers all the night.
  No melody was like a passing spright
  If it went not to solemnize thy reign.
  Yes, in my boyhood every joy and pain
  By thee were fashioned in the self-same end;
  And as I grew in years, still didst thou blend
  With all my ardours: thou wast the deep glen;
  Thou wast the mountain-top--the sage's pen--
  The poet's harp--the voice of friends--the sun;
  Thou wast the river--thou wast glory won;
  Thou wast my clarion's blast--thou wast my steed--
  My goblet full of wine--my topmost deed:--
  Thou wast the charm of women, lovely Moon!
  O what a wild and harmonized tune
  My spirit struck from all the beautiful!

In the last two lines of the above Keats gives us the essential master
key to his own poetic nature and being. The eight preceding, from 'As I
grew in years' offer in their rhetorical form a curious parallel with a
passage of similar purport in Drayton's _Endimion and Phoebe_:--

  Be kind (quoth he) sweet Nymph unto thy lover,
  My soul's sole essence and my senses' mover,
  Life of my life, pure Image of my heart,
  Impression of Conceit, Invention, Art.
  My vital spirit receives his spirit from thee,
  Thou art that all which ruleth all in me,
  Thou art the sap and life whereby I live,
  Which powerful vigour doth receive and give.
  Thou nourishest the flame wherein I burn,
  The North whereto my heart's true touch doth turn.

Was Keats, then, after all familiar with the rare volume in which alone
Drayton's early poem had been printed, or does the similar turn of the
two passages spring from some innate affinity between the two poets,--or
perhaps merely from the natural suggestion of the theme?

In nature-poetry, and especially in that mode of it in which the poet
goes out with his whole being into nature and loses his identity in
delighted sympathy with her doings, Keats already shows himself a master
scarcely excelled. Take the lines near the beginning which tell of the
'silent workings of the dawn' on the morning of Pan's festival:--

                     Rain-scented eglantine
  Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
  The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run
  To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass;
  Man's voice was on the mountains; and the mass
  Of nature's lives and wonders puls'd tenfold,
  To feel this sun-rise and its glories old.

The freshness and music and felicity of the first two lines are nothing
less than Shakespearean: in the rest note with how true an instinct the
poet evokes the operant magic and living activities of the dawn, single
instances first and then in a sudden outburst the sum and volume of them
all: how he avoids word-painting and palette-work, leaving all merely
visible beauties, the stationary world of colours and forms, as they
should be left, to the painter, and dealing, as poetry alone is able to
deal, with those delights which are felt and divined rather than seen,
delights which the poet instinctively attributes to nature as though she
were as sentient as himself. It is like Keats here so to place and lead
up to the word 'old' as to make it pregnant with all the meanings which
it bore to him: that is with all the wonder and romance of ancient
Greece, and at the same time with a sense of awe, like that expressed in
the opening chorus of Goethe's _Faust_, at nature's eternal miracle of
the sun still rising 'glorious as on creation's day.'

It is interesting to note how above all other nature-images Keats, whose
blood, when his faculties were at their highest tension, was always apt
to be heated even to fever-point, prefers those of nature's coolness and
refreshment. Here are two or three out of a score of instances. Endymion
tells how he had been gazing at the face of his unknown love smiling at
him from the well:--

  I started up, when lo! refreshfully,
  There came upon my face in plenteous showers
  Dew-drops, and dewy buds, and leaves, and flowers,
  Wrapping all objects from my smothered sight,
  Bathing my spirit in a new delight.

Coming to a place where a brook issues from a cave, he says to himself--

                                'Tis the grot
  Of Proserpine, when Hell, obscure and hot,
  Doth her resign; and where her tender hands
  She dabbles on the cool and sluicy sands:

A little later, and

  Now he is sitting by a shady spring,
  And elbow-deep with feverous fingering,
  Stems the upbursting cold.

For many passages where the magic of nature is mingled instinctively and
inseparably with the magic of Greek mythology, the prayer of Endymion to
Cynthia above quoted (p. 210) may serve as a sample: and all readers of
poetry know the famous lines where the beautiful evocation of a natural
scene melts into one, more beautiful still, of a scene of ancient life
and worship which comes floated upon the poet's inner vision by an
imagined strain of music from across the sea:--

  It seem'd he flew, the way so easy was;
  And like a new-born spirit did he pass
  Through the green evening quiet in the sun,
  O'er many a heath, through many a woodland dun,
  Through buried paths, where sleepy twilight dreams
  The summer time away. One track unseams
  A wooded cleft, and, far away, the blue
  Of ocean fades upon him; then, anew,
  He sinks adown a solitary glen,
  Where there was never sound of mortal men,
  Saving, perhaps, some snow-light cadences
  Melting to silence, when upon the breeze
  Some holy bark let forth an anthem sweet,
  To cheer itself to Delphi.[2]

Often in thus conjuring up visions of the classic past, Keats effects
true master strokes of imaginative concentration. Do we not feel half
the romance of the _Odyssey_, with the spell that is in the sound of the
vowelled place-names of Grecian story, and the breathing mystery of
moonlight falling on magic islands of the sea, distilled into the one
line--

  Aeaea's isle was wondering at the moon?

And again in the pair of lines--

  Like old Deucalion mountain'd o'er the flood
  Or blind Orion hungry for the morn,

do not the two figures evoked rise before us full-charged each with the
vital significance of his story? Mr de Sélincourt is no doubt right in
suggesting that in the Orion line Keats's vision has been stimulated by
the print from that picture of Poussin's which Hazlitt has described in
so rich a strain of eulogy.

One of the great symptoms of returning vitality in the imagination of
Europe, as the eighteenth century passed into the nineteenth, was its
re-awakening to the significance and beauty of the Greek mythology. For
a hundred years and more the value of that mythology for the human
spirit had been forgotten. There never had been a time when the names of
the ancient, especially the Roman, gods and goddesses were used so often
in poetry, but simply in cold obedience to tradition and convention;
merely as part of the accepted mode of speech of persons classically
educated, and with no more living significance than belonged to the
trick of personifying abstract forces and ideas by putting capital
initials to their names. So far as concerned any real effect upon men's
minds, it was tacitly understood and accepted that the Greek mythology
was 'dead.' As if it could ever die; as if the 'fair humanities of old
religion,' in passing out of the transitory state of things believed
into the state of things remembered and cherished in imagination, had
not put on a second life more enduring and more fruitful than the first.
Faiths, as faiths, perish one after another; but each in passing away
bequeaths for the enrichment of the after-world whatever elements it has
contained of imaginative or moral truth or beauty. The polytheism of
ancient Greece, embodying the instinctive effort of the brightliest
gifted human race to explain its earliest experiences of nature and
civilization, of the thousand moral and material forces, cruel or
kindly, which environ and control the life of man on earth, is rich
beyond measure in such elements; and if the modern world at any time
fails to value them, it is the modern mind which is in so far dead and
not they. Some words of Johnson's written forty years before Keats's
time may help us to realize the full depth of the deadness from which in
this respect it had to be awakened:--

  He (Waller) borrows too many of his sentiments and illustrations from
  the old Mythology, for which it is in vain to plead the example of
  ancient poets: the deities, which they introduced so frequently, were
  considered as realities, so far as to be received by the imagination,
  whatever sober reason might even then determine. But of these images
  time has tarnished the splendour. A fiction, not only detected but
  despised, can never afford a solid basis to any position, though
  sometimes it may furnish a transient allusion, or slight illustration.

To rescue men's minds from this mode of deadness was part of the work of
the English poetical revival of 1800 and onwards, and Keats was the poet
who has contributed most to the task. Wordsworth could understand and
expound the spirit of Grecian myths, and on occasion, as in his cry for
a sight of Proteus and a sound of old Triton's horn, could for a moment
hanker after its revival. Shelley could feel and write of Apollo and Pan
and Proserpine, of Alpheus and Arethusa, with ardent delight and lyric
emotion. But it was the gift of Keats to make live by imagination,
whether in few words or many, every ancient fable that came up in his
mind. The couple of lines telling of the song with which Peona tries to
soothe her brother's pining are a perfect example alike of appropriate
verbal music and of imagination following out a classic myth, that of
the birth and nurture of Pan, from a mere hint to its recesses and
finding the human beauty and tenderness that lurk there:--

                        'Twas a lay
  More subtle cadencèd, more forest wild
  Than Dryope's lone lulling of her child:

Even in setting before us so trite a personification as the god of love,
Keats manages to escape the traditional and the merely decorative, and
to endow him with a new and subtle vitality--

                          awfully he stands;
  A sovereign quell is in his waving hands;
  No sight can bear the lightning of his bow;
  His quiver is mysterious, none can know
  What themselves think of it; from forth his eyes
  There darts strange light of varied hues and dyes:
  A scowl is sometimes on his brow, but who
  Look full upon it feel anon the blue
  Of his fair eyes run liquid through their souls.

Keats in one place defines his purpose in his poem, if only he can find
strength to carry it out, as a

                          striving to uprear
  Love's standard on the battlements of song.

His actual love scenes, as we have said, are the weakest, his ideal
invocations to and celebrations of love among the strongest, things in
the poem. One of these, already quoted, comes near the end of the first
book: the second book opens with another: in the third book the incident
of the moonlight spangling the surface of the sea and penetrating thence
to the under-sea caverns where Endymion lies languishing is used to
point an essential moral of the narrative:--

  O love! how potent hast thou been to teach
  Strange journeyings! Wherever beauty dwells,
  In gulph or aerie, mountains or deep dells,
  In light, in gloom, in star or blazing sun,
  Thou pointest out the way, and straight 'tis won.

When the poet interrupts for a passing moment his tale of the might and
mysteries of love, celestial or human, and turns to images of war, we
find, him able to condense the whole tragedy of the sack of Troy into
three potent lines,--

  The woes of Troy, towers smothering o'er their blaze,
  Stiff-holden shields, far-piercing spears, keen blades,
  Struggling, and blood, and shrieks.

From a passage like the following any reasonably sympathetic reader of
Keats's day, running through the poem to find what manner and variety of
promise it might contain, should have augured well of another kind of
power, the dramatic and ironic, to be developed in due time. The speaker
is the detected witch Circe uttering the doom of her revolted lover
Glaucus:--

  'Ha! ha! Sir Dainty! there must be a nurse
  Made of rose leaves and thistledown, express,
  To cradle thee, my sweet, and lull thee: yes,
  I am too flinty-hard for thy nice touch:
  My tenderest squeeze is but a giant's clutch.
  So, fairy-thing, it shall have lullabies
  Unheard of yet: and it shall still its cries
  Upon some breast more lily-feminine.
  Oh, no--it shall not pine, and pine, and pine
  More than one pretty, trifling thousand years.
         ... Mark me! Thou hast thews
  Immortal, for thou art of heavenly race:
  But such a love is mine, that here I chase
  Eternally away from thee all bloom
  Of youth, and destine thee towards a tomb.
  Hence shalt thou quickly to the watery vast;
  And there, ere many days be overpast,
  Disabled age shall seize thee: and even then
  Thou shalt not go the way of aged men;
  But live and wither, cripple and still breathe
  Ten hundred years: which gone, I then bequeath
  Thy fragile bones to unknown burial.
  Adieu, sweet love, adieu!'

A vein very characteristic of Keats at this stage of his mind's growth
is that of figurative confession or self-revelation. Many passages in
_Endymion_ give poetical expression to the same alternating moods of
ambition and humility, of exhilaration, depression, or apathy, which he
confides to his friends in his letters. One of the most striking and
original of these pieces of figurative psychology studied from his own
moods is the description of the Cave of Quietude in Book IV:--

                            There lies a den,
  Beyond the seeming confines of the space
  Made for the soul to wander in and trace
  Its own existence, of remotest glooms.
  Dark regions are around it, where the tombs
  Of buried griefs the spirit sees, but scarce
  One hour doth linger weeping, for the pierce
  Of new-born woe it feels more inly smart:
  And in these regions many a venom'd dart
  At random flies; they are the proper home
  Of every ill: the man is yet to come
  Who hath not journeyed in this native hell.
  But few have ever felt how calm and well
  Sleep may be had in that deep den of all.
  There anguish does not sting; nor pleasure pall:
  Woe-hurricanes beat ever at the gate,
  Yet all is still within and desolate.
                                  ... Enter none
  Who strive therefore: on the sudden it is won.

To the student of _Endymion_ there are few things more interesting than
to observe Keats's technical and spiritual relations to his Elizabethan
models in those places where he has one or another of them manifestly in
remembrance. Here is the passage in Sandys's _Ovid_ which tells how
Cybele, the Earth-Mother, punished the pair of lovers Hippomenes and
Atalanta for the pollution of her sanctuary by turning them into lions
and yoking them to her car:--

                                The Mother, crown'd
  With towers, had struck them to the Stygian sound,
  But that she thought that punishment too small.
  When yellow manes on their smooth shoulders fall;
  Their arms, to legs; their fingers turn to nails;
  Their breasts of wondrous strength: their tufted tails
  Whisk up the dust; their looks are full of dread;
  For speech they roar: the woods become their bed.
  These Lions, fear'd by others, Cybel checks
  With curbing bits, and yokes their stubborn necks.

This is a typical example of Ovid's brilliantly clever, quite
unromantic, unsurprised, and as it were unblinking way of detailing the
marvels of an act of transformation. Keats's recollection of it--and
probably also of a certain engraving after a Roman altar-relief of
Cybele and her yoked lions--inspires a vision of intense imaginative
life expressed in verse of a noble solemnity and sonority:--

  Forth from a rugged arch, in the dusk below,
  Came mother Cybele! alone--alone--
  In sombre chariot; dark foldings thrown
  About her majesty, and front death-pale,
  With turrets crown'd. Four maned lions hale
  The sluggish wheels; solemn their toothed maws,
  Their surly eyes brow-hidden, heavy paws
  Uplifted drowsily, and nervy tails
  Cowering their tawny brushes. Silent sails
  This shadowy queen athwart, and faints away
  In another gloomy arch.

The four lions instead of two must be a whim of Keats's imagination, and
finds no authority either from Ovid or from ancient sculpture. Should
any reader wish to pursue farther the comparison between Ovid in the
_Metamorphoses_ and Keats in _Endymion_, let him turn to the passage of
Ovid where Polyphemus tells Galatea what rustic treasures he will lavish
upon her if she will be his,--the same passage from which is derived the
famous song in Handel's _Acis and Galatea_: let him turn to this and
compare it with the list of similar delights offered by Endymion to the
Indian maiden when he is bent on forgoing his dreams of a celestial
union for her sake, and he will see how they are dematerialized and
refined yet at the same time made richer in colour and enchantment.

But let us for our purpose rather take, as illustrating the relations of
Keats to his classic and Elizabethan sources, two of the incidental
lyrics in his poem. There are four such lyrics in _Endymion_ altogether.
Two of them are of small account,--the hymn to Neptune and Venus at the
end of the third book, and the song of the Constellations in the middle
of the fourth. The other two, the hymn to Pan in Book I and the song of
the Indian maiden in Book IV, are among Keats's very finest
achievements. The hymn to Pan is especially interesting in comparison
with two of Keats's Elizabethan sources, Chapman's translation of the
Homeric hymn and Ben Jonson's original hymns in his masque of _Pan's
Anniversary_. Here is part of the Homeric hymn according to Chapman:--

  Sing, Muse, this chief of Hermes' love-got joys,
  Goat-footed, two-horn'd, amorous of noise,
  That through the fair greens, all adorn'd with trees,
  Together goes with Nymphs, whose nimble knees
  Can every dance foot, that affect to scale
  The most inaccessible tops of all
  Uprightest rocks, and ever use to call
  On Pan, the bright-haired God of pastoral;
  Who yet is lean and loveless, and doth owe
  By lot all loftiest mountains crown'd with snow;
  All tops of hills, and cliffy highnesses,
  All sylvan copses, and the fortresses
  Of thorniest queaches here and there doth rove,
  And sometimes, by allurement of his love,
  Will wade the wat'ry softnesses. Sometimes
  (In quite oppos'd _capriccios_) he climbs
  The hardest rocks, and highest, every way
  Running their ridges. Often will convey
  Himself up to a watch-tow'r's top, where sheep
  Have their observance. Oft through hills as steep
  His goats he runs upon, and never rests.
  Then turns he head, and flies on savage beasts,
  Mad of their slaughters...
  (When Hesp'rus calls to fold the flocks of men)
  From the green closets of his loftiest reeds
  He rushes forth, and joy with song he feeds.
  When, under shadow of their motions set,
  He plays a verse forth so profoundly sweet,
  As not the bird that in the flow'ry spring,
  Amidst the leaves set, makes the thickets ring
  Of her sour sorrows, sweeten'd with her song,
  Runs her divisions varied so and strong.

And here are two of the most characteristic strophes from Ben Jonson's
hymns:--

  Pan is our all, by him we breathe, we live,
    We move, we are; 'tis he our lambs doth rear,
  Our flocks doth bless, and from the store doth give
    The warm and finer fleeces that we wear.
    He keeps away all heats and colds,
    Drives all diseases from our folds:
    Makes every where the spring to dwell,
    The ewes to feed, their udders swell;
    But if he frown, the sheep (alas)
    The shepherds wither, and the grass.
  Strive, strive to please him then by still increasing thus
  The rites are due to him, who doth all right for us.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Great Pan, the father of our peace and pleasure,
    Who giv'st us all this leisure,
  Hear what thy hallowed troop of herdsmen pray
    For this their holy-day,
  And how their vows to thee they in Lycæum pay.
  So may our ewes receive the mounting rams,
  And we bring thee the earliest of our lambs:
  So may the first of all our fells be thine,
  And both the breastning of our goats and kine.
    As thou our folds dost still secure,
    And keep'st our fountains sweet and pure,
    Driv'st hence the wolf, the tod, the brock,
    Or other vermin from the flock.
  That we preserv'd by thee, and thou observ'd by us,
  May both live safe in shade of thy lov'd Maenalus.

Comparing these strophes with the hymn in _Endymion_, we shall realize
how the Elizabethan pastoral spirit, compounded as it was of native
English love of country pleasures and Renaissance delight in classic
poetry, emerged after near two centuries' occultation to reappear in the
poetry of Keats, but wonderfully strengthened in imaginative reach and
grasp, richer and more romantic both in the delighted sense of nature's
blessings and activities and in the awed apprehension of a vast mystery
behind them. The sense of such mystery is nowhere else expressed by
Keats with such brooding inwardness and humbleness as where he invokes
Pan no longer as a shepherd's god but as a symbol of the World-All.
Wordsworth, when Keats at the request of friends read the piece to him,
could see, or would own to seeing, nothing in it but a 'pretty piece of
paganism,' though indeed in the more profoundly felt and imagined lines,
such as those with which the first and fifth strophes open, the
inspiration can be traced in great part to the influence of Wordsworth
himself:--

    O Thou, whose mighty palace roof doth hang
  From jagged trunks, and overshadoweth
  Eternal whispers, glooms, the birth, life, death
  Of unseen flowers in heavy peacefulness;
  Who lov'st to see the hamadryads dress
  Their ruffled locks where meeting hazels darken;
  And through whole solemn hours dost sit, and hearken
  The dreary melody of bedded reeds--
  In desolate places, where dank moisture breeds
  The pipy hemlock to strange overgrowth;
  Bethinking thee, how melancholy loth
  Thou wast to lose fair Syrinx--do thou now,
  By thy love's milky brow!
  By all the trembling mazes that she ran,
  Hear us, great Pan!

    O thou, for whose soul-soothing quiet, turtles
  Passion their voices cooingly 'mong myrtles,
  What time thou wanderest at eventide
  Through sunny meadows, that outskirt the side
  Of thine enmossed realms: O thou, to whom
  Broad leaved fig trees even now foredoom
  Their ripen'd fruitage; yellow girted bees
  Their golden honeycombs; our village leas
  Their fairest blossom'd beans and poppied corn;
  The chuckling linnet its five young unborn,
  To sing for thee; low creeping strawberries
  Their summer coolness; pent up butterflies
  Their freckled wings; yea, the fresh budding year
  All its completions--be quickly near,
  By every wind that nods the mountain pine,
  O forester divine!

    Thou, to whom every faun and satyr flies
  For willing service; whether to surprise
  The squatted hare while in half sleeping fit;
  Or upward ragged precipices flit
  To save poor lambkins from the eagle's maw;
  Or by mysterious enticement draw
  Bewildered shepherds to their path again;
  Or to tread breathless round the frothy main,
  And gather up all fancifullest shells
  For thee to tumble into Naiads' cells,
  And being hidden, laugh at their out-peeping;
  Or to delight thee with fantastic leaping,
  The while they pelt each other on the crown
  With silvery oak apples, and fir cones brown--
  By all the echoes that about thee ring,
  Hear us, O satyr king!

    O Hearkener to the loud clapping shears,
  While ever and anon to his shorn peers
  A ram goes bleating: Winder of the horn,
  When snouted wild-boars routing tender corn
  Anger our huntsmen: Breather round our farms,
  To keep off mildews, and all weather harms:
  Strange ministrant of undescribed sounds,
  That come a swooning over hollow grounds,
  And wither drearily on barren moors:[3]
  Dread opener of the mysterious doors
  Leading to universal knowledge--see,
  Great son of Dryope,
  The many that are come to pay their vows
  With leaves about their brows!

    Be still the unimaginable lodge
  For solitary thinkings; such as dodge
  Conception to the very bourne of heaven,
  Then leave the naked brain; be still the leaven,
  That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
  Gives it a touch ethereal--a new birth:
  Be still a symbol of immensity;
  A firmament reflected in a sea;
  An element filling the space between;
  An unknown--but no more: we humbly screen
  With uplift hands our foreheads, lowly bending,
  And giving out a shout most heaven rending,
  Conjure thee to receive our humble Paean,
  Upon thy Mount Lycean!

The song of the Indian maiden in the fourth book is in a very different
key from this, more strikingly original in form and conception, and but
for a weak opening and one or two flaws of taste would be a masterpiece.
Keats's later and more famous lyrics, though they have fewer faults, yet
do not, to my mind at least, show a command over such various sources of
imaginative and musical effect, or touch so thrillingly so many chords
of the spirit. A mood of tender irony and wistful pathos like that of
the best Elizabethan love-songs; a sense as keen as Heine's of the
immemorial romance of India and the East; a power like that of
Coleridge, and perhaps partly caught from him, of evoking the remotest
weird and beautiful associations almost with a word; clear visions of
Greek beauty and wild wood-notes of northern imagination; all these
elements come here commingled, yet in a strain perfectly individual.
Keats calls the piece a 'roundelay,'--a form which it only so far
resembles that its opening measures are repeated at the close. It begins
by invoking and questioning sorrow in a series of dreamy musical stanzas
of which the imagery embodies, a little redundantly and confusedly, the
idea expressed elsewhere by Keats with greater perfection, that it is
Sorrow which confers upon beautiful things their richest beauty. From
these the song passes to tell what has happened to the singer:--

          To Sorrow,
          I bade good-morrow,
  And thought to leave her far away behind;
          But cheerly, cheerly,
          She loves me dearly;
  She is so constant to me, and so kind:
          I would deceive her
          And so leave her,
  But ah! she is so constant and so kind.
  Beneath my palm tree, by the river side,
  I sat a weeping: in the whole world wide
  There was no one to ask me why I wept,--
          And so I kept
  Brimming the water-lily cups with tears
          Cold as my fears.
  Beneath my palm trees, by the river side,
  I sat a weeping: what enamour'd bride,
  Cheated by shadowy wooer from the clouds,
          But hides and shrouds
  Beneath dark palm trees by a river side?

It is here that we seem to catch an echo, varied and new-modulated but
in no sense weakened, from Coleridge's _Kubla Khan_,--

  A savage place, as holy as enchanted
  As e'er beneath the waning moon was haunted
  By woman wailing for her demon lover.

Then, with another change of measure comes the deserted maiden's tale of
the irruption of Bacchus on his march from India; and then, arranged as
if for music, the challenge of the maiden to the Maenads and satyrs and
their choral answers:--

  'Whence came ye, merry Damsels! Whence came ye!
  So many and so many, and such glee?
  Why have ye left your bowers desolate,
    Your lutes, and gentler fate?'
  'We follow Bacchus! good or ill betide,
  We dance before him thorough kingdoms wide:
  Come hither, lady fair, and joined be
    To our wild minstrelsy!'

  'Whence came ye jolly Satyrs! Whence came ye!
  So many, and so many, and such glee?
  Why have ye left your forest haunts, why left
    Your nuts in oak-tree cleft?'
  'For wine, for wine we left our kernel tree;
  For wine we left our heath, and yellow brooms,
    And cold mushrooms;
  For wine we follow Bacchus through the earth;
  Great God of breathless cups and chirping mirth!
  Come hither, lady fair, and joined be
    To our mad minstrelsy!'
  'Over wide streams and mountains great we went,
  And save when Bacchus kept his ivy tent,
  Onward the tiger and the leopard pants,
    With Asian elephants:
  Onward these myriads--with song and dance,
  With zebras striped, and sleek Arabians' prance,
  Web-footed alligators, crocodiles,
  Bearing upon their scaly backs, in files,
  Plump infant laughers mimicking the coil
  Of seamen, and stout galley-rowers' toil:
  With toying oars and silken sails they glide,
    Nor care for wind and tide.

[Illustration: PL. V

  'Onward the tiger and the leopard pants
  With Asian elephants'

FROM A SARCOPHAGUS RELIEF AT WOBURN ABBEY]

It is usually said that this description of Bacchus and his rout was
suggested by Titian's famous picture of Bacchus and Ariadne (after
Catullus) which is now in the National Gallery, and which Severn took
Keats to see when it was exhibited at the British Institution in 1816.
But this will account for a part at most of Keats's vision. Tiger and
leopard panting along with Asian elephants on the march are not present
in that picture, nor anything like them. Keats might have found
suggestions for them in the text both of Godwin's little handbook just
quoted and in Spence's _Polymetis_: but it would have been much more
like him to work from something seen with his eyes: and these animals,
with Indian prisoners mounted on the elephants, are invariable features
of the triumphal processions of Bacchus through India as represented on
a certain well-known type of ancient sarcophagus. From direct sight of
such sarcophagus reliefs or prints after such Keats, I feel sure, must
have taken them,[4] while the children mounted on crocodiles may have
been drawn from the plinth of the famous ancient recumbent statue of the
Nile, and the pigmy rowers, in all likelihood, from certain reliefs
which Keats will have noticed in the Townley collection at the British
Museum: so that the whole brilliant picture is a composite (as we shall
see later was the case with the Grecian Urn) which had shaped itself
from various sources in Keats's imagination and become more real than
any reality to his mind's eye. But I am holding up the reader, with this
digression as to sources, from the fine rush of verse with which the
lyric sweeps on to tell how the singer dropped out of the train of
Bacchus to wander alone into the Carian forest, and finally, returning
to the opening motive, ends as it began with an exquisite strain of
lovelorn pathos:--

           Come then, sorrow!
           Sweetest sorrow!
  Like an own babe I nurse thee on my breast:
           I thought to leave thee,
           And deceive thee,
  But now of all the world I love thee best.

           There is not one,
           No, no, not one
  But thee to comfort a poor lonely maid;
           Thou art her mother
           And her brother,
  Her playmate, and her wooer in the shade.

An intensely vital imaginative feeling, such as can afford to dispense
with scholarship, for the spirit of Greek and Greco-Asiatic myths and
cults inspires these lyrics respectively; and strangely enough the
result seems in neither case a whit impaired by the fact that the
nature-images Keats invokes in them are almost purely English.
Bean-fields in blossom and poppies among the corn, hemlock growing in
moist places by the brookside, field mushrooms with the morning dew
upon them, cowslips and strawberries and the song of linnets, oak,
hazel and flowering broom, holly trees smothered from view under the
summer leafage of chestnuts, these are the things of nature that he has
loved and lived with from a child, and his imagination cannot help
importing the same delights not only into the forest haunts of Pan but
into the regions ranged over by Bacchus with his train of yoked tiger
and panther, of elephant, crocodile and zebra.

Contemporary influences as well as Elizabethan and Jacobean are
naturally discernible in the poem. The strongest and most permeating is
that of Wordsworth, not so much to be traced in actual echoes of his
words, though these of course occur, as in adoptions of his general
spirit. We have recognized a special instance in that deep and brooding
sense of mystery, of 'something far more deeply interfused,' of the
working of an unknown spiritual force behind appearances, which finds
expression in the hymn to Pan. Endymion's prayer to Cynthia from
underground in the second book will be found to run definitely and
closely parallel with Wordsworth's description of the huntress Diana in
his account of the origin of Greek myths (see above, pp. 125-6). When
Keats likens the many-tinted mists enshrouding the litter of Sleep to
the fog on the top of Skiddaw from which the travellers may

  With an eye-guess towards some pleasant vale
  Descry a favourite hamlet faint and far,

we know that his imagination is answering to a stimulus supplied by
Wordsworth. But it is for the undercurrent of ethical symbolism in
_Endymion_ that Keats will have owed the most to that master. Both
Shelley and he had been profoundly impressed by the reading of _The
Excursion_, published when Shelley was in his twenty-second year and
Keats in his nineteenth, and each in his own way had taken deeply to
heart Wordsworth's inculcation, both in that poem and many others, of
the doctrine that a poet must learn to go out of himself and to live
and feel as a man among fellow men,--that it is a kind of spiritual
suicide for him to attempt to live apart from human sympathies,

  Housed in a dream, at distance from the Kind!

A large part of _Endymion_, as we have seen, is devoted to the
symbolical setting forth of this conviction. For the rest, that
essential contrast between the mental processes and poetic methods of
the elder and the younger man which we have noted in discussing Keats's
first volume continues to strike us in the second. In interpreting the
relations of man to the natural world, Wordsworth's poetry is intensely
personal and 'subjective,' Keats's intensely impersonal and 'objective.'
Wordsworth expounds, Keats evokes: the mind of Wordsworth works by
strenuous after-meditation on his experiences of life and nature and
their effect upon his own soul and consciousness: the mind of Keats
works by instantaneous imaginative participation, instinctive and
self-oblivious, in nature's doings and beings, especially those which
make for human refreshment and delight.

The second contemporary influence to be considered is that of Shelley.
Shelley's _Alastor_, it will be remembered, published early in 1816, had
been praised by Hunt in _The Examiner_ for December of that year, and in
the following January Hunt printed in the same paper Shelley's _Hymn to
Intellectual Beauty_. In the course of that same December and January
Keats had seen a good deal of Shelley at Hunt's and taken part with him
in many talks on poetry. It is certain that Keats read and was impressed
by _Alastor_: doubtless he also read the _Hymn_. How much did either or
both influence him in the composition of _Endymion_? Mr Andrew Bradley
thinks he sees evidence that _Alastor_ influenced him strongly. That
poem is a parable, as _Endymion_ is, of the adventures of a poet's soul;
and it enforces, as much of _Endymion_ does, the doctrine that a poet
cannot without ruin to himself live in isolation from human sympathies.
But there the resemblance between the two conceptions really ends. In
_Alastor_ the poet, having lived in solitary communion 'with all that is
most beautiful and august in nature and in human thought and the world's
past' (the words are Shelley's own prose summary of the imagined
experiences which the first part of the poem relates in splendid verse),
is suddenly awakened, by a love-vision which comes to him in a dream, to
the passionate desire of finding and mating with a kindred soul, the
living counterpart of his dream, who shall share with him the delight of
such communion. The desire, ever unsatisfied, turns all his former joys
to ashes, and drives him forth by unheard-of ways through monstrous
wildernesses until he pines and dies, or in the strained Shelleyan
phrase, 'Blasted by his disappointment, he descends into an untimely
grave.' The essence of the theme is the quest of the poetic soul for
perfect spiritual sympathy and its failure to discover what it seeks.
Shelley does not make it fully clear whether the ideal of his poet's
dream is a purely abstract entity, an incarnation of the collective
response which he hopes, but fails, to find from his fellow creatures at
large; or whether, or how far, he is transcendentally expressing his own
personal longing for an ideally sympathetic soul-companion in the shape
of woman. Both strains no doubt enter into his conception; so far as the
private strain comes in, many passages of his life furnish a mournfully
ironic comment on his dream. But in any case his conception is
fundamentally different from that of Keats in _Endymion_. The essence of
Keats's task is to set forth the craving of the poet for full communion
with the essential spirit of Beauty in the world, and the discipline by
which he is led, through the exercise of the active human sympathies and
the toilsome acquisition of knowledge, to the prosperous and beatific
achievement of his quest.

It is rather the preface to _Alastor_ than the poem itself which we can
trace as having really worked in the mind of Keats. In it the evil fate
of those who shut themselves out from human sympathies is very
eloquently set forth, in a passage which is only partly relevant to the
design of the poem, inasmuch as its warning is addressed not only to the
poet in particular but to human beings in general. The passage may have
had some influence on Keats when he framed the scheme of _Endymion_:
what is certain is that we shall find its thoughts and even its words
recurring forcibly to his mind in an hour of despondency some thirty
months later: let us therefore postpone its consideration until then.
For the rest, it is not difficult to show correspondence between some of
the descriptive passages of _Alastor_ and _Endymion_, especially those
telling of the natural and architectural marvels amid which the heroes
wander. Endymion's wanderings we are fresh from tracing. Alastor before
him had wandered--

                     where the secret caves
  Rugged and dark, winding amid the springs
  Of fire and poison, inaccessible
  To avarice or pride, their starry domes
  Of diamond and of gold expand above
  Numerous and immeasurable halls,
  Frequent with crystal columns, and clear shrines
  Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite.

But these are the kind of visions which may rise spontaneously in common
in the minds of almost any pair of youthful dreamers. Shelley's poetic
style is of course as much sounder and less experimental than that of
Keats at this time as his range and certainty of penetrating and
vivifying imagination are, to my apprehension at least, less: he had a
trained and scholarly feeling both for the resources of the language and
for its purity, and Keats might have learnt much from him as to what he
should avoid. But as we have seen, Keats was firmly on his guard against
letting any outside influence affect his own development, and would not
visit Shelley at Marlow during the composition of _Endymion_, in order
'that he might have his own unfettered scope' and that the spirit of
poetry might work out its own salvation in him.

As to the _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, written though it was by
Shelley under the fresh impression of the glory of the Alps and also in
the first flush of his acquaintance with and enthusiasm for Plato, I
think Keats would have felt its strain of aspiration and invocation too
painful, too near despair, to make much appeal to him, and that
Shelley's

  Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
  With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon,

would have seemed to him something abstract, remote, and uncomforting.
His own imagination insisted on the existence of something in the
ultimate nature of the universe to account for what he calls the 'wild
and harmonised tune' which he found his spirit striking from all the
scattered and broken beauties of the world. Vague and floating his
conception of that something might be, but it was extraordinarily
intense, partaking of the concentrated essence of a thousand thrilling
joys of perception and imagination. He had read no Plato, though he was
of course familiar enough with Spenser's mellifluous dilution of
Platonic and neo-Platonic doctrine in his four _Hymns_. In _Endymion_,
as in the speculative passages of the letters we have quoted, his mind
has to go adventuring for itself among those ancient, for him almost
uncharted, mysteries of Love and Beauty. He does not as yet conceive
himself capable of anything more than steppings, to repeat his own sober
phrase, of the imagination towards truth. He does not light, he does not
expect to light, upon revelations of truth abstract or formal, and seems
to waver between the Adam's dream idea of finding in some transcendental
world all the several modes of earthly happiness 'repeated in a finer
tone' but yet retaining their severalness, and an idea, nearer to the
Platonic, of a single principle of absolute or abstract Beauty, the
object of a purged and perfected spiritual contemplation, from which all
the varieties of beauty experienced on earth derive their quality and
oneness. But in his search he strikes now and again, for the attentive
reader, notes of far reaching symbolic significance that carry the mind
to the verge of the great mysteries of things: he takes us with him on
exploratory sweeps and fetches of figurative thought in regions almost
beyond the reach of words, where we gain with him glimmering
adumbrations of the super-sensual through distilled and spiritualized
remembrance of the joys of sense-perception at their most intense.

So much for Keats's possible debt to Shelley in regard to _Endymion_.
There is an interesting small debt to be recorded on the other side,
which critics, I think, have hitherto failed to notice. Shelley,
notwithstanding his interest in Keats, did not read _Endymion_ till a
year or more after its publication. He had in the meantime gone to live
in Italy, and having had the volume sent out to him at Leghorn, writes:
'much praise is due to me for having read it, the author's intention
appearing to be that no person should possibly get to the end of it. Yet
it is full of the highest and finest gleams of poetry: indeed,
everything seems to be viewed by the mind of a poet which is described
in it. I think if he had printed about fifty pages of fragments from it,
I should have been led to admire Keats as a poet more than I ought, of
which there is now no danger.' Nothing can be more just; and in the same
spirit eight months later, in May 1820, he writes, 'Keats, I hope, is
going to show himself a great poet; like the sun, to burst through the
clouds, which, though dyed in the finest colours of the air, obscured
his rising.' About the same time, having heard of Keats's hæmorrhage and
sufferings and of their supposed cause in the hostility of the Tory
critics, Shelley drafted, but did not send, his famous indignant letter
to the editor of the _Quarterly Review_. In this draft he shows himself
a careful student of _Endymion_ by pointing out particular passages for
approval. One of these passages is that near the beginning of the third
book describing the wreckage seen by the hero as he traversed the ocean
floor before meeting Glaucus. Everybody knows, in Shakespeare's _Richard
III_, Clarence's dream of being drowned and of what he saw below the
sea:--

  What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears!
  What ugly sights of death within mine eyes!
  Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
  Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon;
  Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
  Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
  All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea.

Keats, no doubt remembering, and in a sense challenging, this passage,
wrote,--

                              Far had he roam'd,
  With nothing save the hollow vast, that foam'd,
  Above, around, and at his feet; save things
  More dead than Morpheus' imaginings:
  Old rusted anchors, helmets, breast-plates large
  Of gone sea-warriors; brazen beaks and targe;
  Rudders that for a hundred years had lost
  The sway of human hand; gold vase emboss'd
  With long-forgotten story, and wherein
  No reveller had ever dipp'd a chin
  But those of Saturn's vintage; mouldering scrolls,
  Writ in the tongue of heaven, by those souls
  Who first were on the earth; and sculptures rude
  In ponderous stone, developing the mood
  Of ancient Nox;--then skeletons of man,
  Of beast, behemoth, and leviathan,
  And elephant, and eagle, and huge jaw
  Of nameless monster.

Jeffrey in his review of the _Lamia_ volume has a fine phrase about this
passage. It 'comes of no ignoble lineage,' he says, 'nor shames its high
descent.' How careful Shelley's study of the passage had been, and how
completely he had assimilated it, is proved by his, doubtless quite
unconscious, reproduction and amplification of it in the fourth act of
_Prometheus Unbound_, which he added as an afterthought to the rest of
the poem in December 1819. The wreckage described is not that of the
sea, but that which the light flashing from the forehead of the infant
Earth-spirit reveals at the earth's centre.

                    The beams flash on
  And make appear the melancholy ruins
  Of cancelled cycles; anchors, beaks of ships;
  Planks turned to marble; quivers, helms, and spears,
  And gorgon-headed targes, and the wheels
  Of scythèd chariots, and the emblazonry
  Of trophies, standards, and armorial beasts,
  Round which death laughed, sepulchred emblems
  Of dead destruction, ruin within ruin!
  The wrecks beside of many a city vast,
  Whose population which the earth grew over
  Was mortal, but not human; see, they lie,
  Their monstrous works, and uncouth skeletons,
  Their statues, homes and fanes; prodigious shapes
  Huddled in gray annihilation, split,
  Jammed in the hard, black deep; and over these,
  The anatomies of unknown wingèd things,
  And fishes which were isles of living scale,
  And serpents, bony chains, twisted around
  The iron crags, or within heaps of dust
  To which the tortuous strength of their last pangs
  Had crushed the iron crags; and over these
  The jaggèd alligator, and the might
  Of earth-convulsing behemoth, which once
  Were monarch beasts.

The derivation of this imagery from the passage of Keats seems evident
alike from its general conception and sequence and from details like the
anchors, beaks, targes, the prodigious primeval sculptures, the
skeletons of behemoth and alligator and antediluvian monsters without
name. Another possible debt of Shelley to _Endymion_ has also been
suggested in the list of delights which the poet, in the closing passage
of _Epipsychidion_, proposes to share with his spirit's mate in their
imagined island home in the Ægean. If Shelley indeed owes anything to
_Endymion_ here, he has etherealized and transcendentalized his original
even more than Keats did Ovid. Possibly, it may also be suggested, it
may have been Shelley's reading of _Endymion_ that led him at this time
to take two of the myths handled in it by Keats as subjects for his own
two lyrics, _Arethusa_ and the _Hymn to Pan_ (both of 1820); but he may
just as well have thought of these subjects independently; and in any
case they are absolutely in his own vein, nor was their exquisite
leaping and liquid lightness of rhythm a thing at any time within
Keats's compass. It would be tempting to attribute to a desire of
emulating and improving on Keats Shelley's beautifully accomplished use
of the rimed couplet with varied pause and free overflow in the _Epistle
to Maria Gisborne_ (1819) and _Epipsychidion_ (1820), but that he had
already made a first experiment in the same kind with _Julian and
Maddalo_, written before his copy of _Endymion_ had reached him, so that
we must take his impulse in the matter to have been drawn not
intermediately through Keats but direct from Leigh Hunt.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Why will my friend Professor Saintsbury, in range of reading and
    industry the master of us all, insist on trying to persuade us that
    in the metre of _Endymion_ Keats owed something to the _Pharonnida_
    of William Chamberlayne? There is absolutely no metrical usage in
    Keats's poem for which his familiar Elizabethan and Jacobean masters
    do not furnish ample precedent: he differs from them only in taking
    more special care to avoid any prolonged run of closed couplets. I do
    not believe he could have brought himself to read two pages of
    _Pharonnida_. But that is only an opinion, and the matter can be
    decided by a simple computation on the fingers. The fact is that
    there are no five pages of _Pharonnida_ which do not contain more of
    those unfortunate rimings on 'in' and 'by' and 'to' and 'on' and 'of'
    followed by their nouns in the next line, or worse still, on 'to'
    followed by its infinitive,--on 'it' and 'than' and 'be' and 'which,'
    and all the featherweight particles and prepositions and auxiliaries
    and relatives impossible to stress or pause on for a moment,--than
    can be found in any whole book of _Endymion_. It is also a fact that
    the average proportion of lines not ending with a comma or other
    pause is in _Pharonnida_ about ten to one, and in _Endymion_ not more
    than two and a half to one. That the sentence-structure of
    _Pharonnida_ is as detestably disjointed and invertebrate as that of
    _Endymion_ is graceful and well-articulated I hesitate to insist,
    because that again is a matter of ear and feeling, and not, like my
    other points, of sheer arithmetic.

  [2] The flaw here is of course the use of the forced rime-word
    'unseam.' The only authority for the word is Shakespeare, who uses it
    in _Macbeth_, in a sufficiently different sense and context--

      'Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps.'

    The vision in Keats's mind was probably of a track dividing, or as it
    were ripping apart, the two sides of a valley.

  [3] 'All the strange, mysterious and unaccountable sounds which were
    heard in solitary places, were attributed to Pan, the God of rural
    scenery' (Baldwin's _Pantheon_, ed. 1806, p. 104). Keats possessed a
    copy of this well-felt and well-written little primer of mythology,
    by William Godwin the philosopher writing under the pseudonym Edward
    Baldwin; and the above is only one of several suggestions directly
    due to it which are to be found in his poetry.

  [4] Two classes of sarcophaguses are concerned, those figuring the
    triumph of Bacchus and Hercules with their Indian captives, and those
    which show the march of Silenus and his rout of fauns and maenads.
    Now it so happens that an excellent original of each class, and with
    them also a fine Endymion sarcophagus, had been bought by the Duke of
    Bedford from the Villa Aldobrandini in 1815 and were set up in his
    grand new gallery at Woburn five years later. Where they were housed
    in the meanwhile is not recorded, but wherever it was Haydon could
    easily have obtained access to them, (the Duke's agent in the
    purchase having been also secretary to Lord Elgin) and I cannot
    resist the conviction, purely conjectural as it is, that Keats must
    have seen them in Haydon's company some time in the winter of
    1816/17, and drawn inspiration from them both in this and some other
    passages of _Endymion_. The Triumph relief is the richest extant of
    its class, especially in its multitude of sporting children: see
    plate opposite.



CHAPTER VIII

DECEMBER 1817-JUNE 1818: HAMPSTEAD AND TEIGNMOUTH: EMIGRATION OF GEORGE
KEATS

  Hampstead again: stage criticism--Hazlitt's lectures--Life at Well
  Walk--Meeting with Wordsworth--The 'immortal dinner'--Lamb forgets
  himself--More of Wordsworth--A happy evening--Wordsworth on
  Bacchus--Disillusion and impatience--Winter letters--Maxims and
  reflections--Quarrels among friends--Haydon, Hunt and Shelley--A
  prolific February--Rants and sonnets--A haunting memory--Six weeks at
  Teignmouth--Soft weather and soft men--_Isabella_ or _the Pot of
  Basil_--Rich correspondence--Epistle to Reynolds--Thirst for
  knowledge--Need of experience--The two chambers of thought--Summer
  plans--Preface to _Endymion_--A family break-up--To Scotland with
  Brown.


From finishing _Endymion_ at Burford Bridge Keats returned some time
before mid-December to his Hampstead lodging. The exact date is
uncertain; but it was in time to see Kean play _Richard III_ at Drury
Lane on the 15th--the actor's first performance after a break of some
weeks due to illness. J. H. Reynolds had gone to Exeter for a Christmas
holiday, and Keats, acting as his substitute, wrote four dramatic
criticisms for the _Champion_: the first, printed on December 21, on
Kean in general and his re-appearance as Richard III in particular; a
second on a hash of the three parts of Shakespeare's _Henry VI_ produced
under the title _Richard Duke of York_, with Kean in the name-part and
probably Kean also as compiler; a third on a tragedy of small account by
one Dillon, called _Retribution_, or the _Chieftain's Daughter_, in
which the young Macready played the part of the villain; and a fourth on
a pantomime of _Don Giovanni_. No one, least of all one living in
Keats's circle, could well attempt stage criticism at this time without
trying to write like Hazlitt. Keats acquits himself on the whole rather
youthfully and crudely. In one point he is cruder than one would have
expected, and that is where, after re-reading the three parts of _Henry
VI_ for his purpose, he retracts what he had begun to say about them and
declares that they are 'perfect works,' apparently without any suspicion
that Shakespeare's part in them is at most that of a beginner of genius
touching up the hackwork of others with a fine passage here and there.

It is only in the notice of Kean as Richard III that the genius in Keats
really kindles. Here his imagination teaches him phrases beyond the
reach of Hazlitt, to express (there is nothing more difficult) the
specific quality and very thrill of the actor's voice and utterance. The
whole passage is of special interest, both what is groping in it and
what is masterly, and alike for itself and for such points as its
familiar use of tags from the then recent _Christabel_ and _Siege of
Corinth_:--

  A melodious passage in poetry is full of pleasures both sensual and
  spiritual. The spiritual is felt when the very letters and points of
  charactered language show like the hieroglyphics of beauty; the
  mysterious signs of our immortal free-masonry! 'A thing to dream of,
  not to tell'! The sensual life of verse springs warm from the lips of
  Kean and to one learned in Shakespearian hieroglyphics--learned in the
  spiritual portion of those lines to which Kean adds a sensual
  grandeur; his tongue must seem to have robbed the Hybla bees and left
  them honeyless! There is an indescribable _gusto_ in his voice, by
  which we feel that the utterer is thinking of the past and future
  while speaking of the instant. When he says in _Othello_, 'Put up your
  bright swords, for the dew will rust them,' we feel that his throat
  had commanded where swords were as thick as reeds. From eternal risk,
  he speaks as though his body were unassailable. Again, his exclamation
  of 'blood, blood, blood!' is direful and slaughterous to the deepest
  degree; the very words appear stained and gory. His nature hangs over
  them, making a prophetic repast. The voice is loosed on them, like the
  wild dog on the savage relics of an eastern conflict; and we can
  distinctly hear it 'gorging and growling o'er carcase and limb.' In
  Richard, 'Be stirring with the lark to-morrow, gentle Norfolk!' comes
  from him as through the morning atmosphere towards which he yearns....
  Surely this intense power of anatomizing the passions of every
  syllable, of taking to himself the airings of verse, is the means by
  which he becomes a storm with such fiery decision; and by which, with
  a still deeper charm, he does his spiriting gently. Other actors are
  continually thinking of their sum-total effect throughout a play. Kean
  delivers himself up to the instant feeling, without a shadow of a
  thought about anything else. He feels his being as deeply as
  Wordsworth, or any other of our intellectual monopolists. From all his
  comrades he stands alone, reminding us of him, whom Dante has so
  finely described in his Hell:

    and sole apart retir'd the Soldan fierce.[1]

  Although so many times he has lost the battle of Bosworth Field, we
  can easily conceive him really expectant of victory, and a different
  termination of the piece.

Keats was by this time left alone in Well Walk, having seen his brothers
off for Teignmouth, whither George carried the invalid Tom for change of
climate. His regular occupation for the next two months was revising and
copying out _Endymion_ for press. Regular also was his attendance at
Hazlitt's evening lectures on the English Poets at the Surrey
Institution. Of the lectures on Shakespeare which Coleridge was in the
same weeks delivering in Fetter Lane Keats makes no mention, and it is
clear that he made no effort to go and hear them, though the distance of
the lecture-hall from his Hampstead lodging was so much less. The reader
who would fain conjure up for himself the contrasted personalities and
styles in public discourse of these two master critics, the shy and
saturnine, yet vigorously straight-hitting and trenchantly effective
Hazlitt, and the ramblingly mellifluous, sometimes beautifully inspired
and sometimes painfully drug-beclouded Coleridge, can draw but a faint
and tantalized satisfaction from the diaries of Henry Crabb Robinson,
that assiduous friend and satellite of men of genius, who punctually
records his attendance at both courses, but lacked the touch that
should have made his record live.

Keats's letters to his brothers in these winter months, with a few more
to Bailey and Reynolds, give us lively glimpses of his social doings,
and others, interesting in the extreme, of the inward growth and
workings of his mind. He tells of a certain amount of common-place
conviviality: an absurd dance and rackety supper at one Redhall's; noisy
Saturday 'concerts' at his own rooms, which means that two or three
intimates came to early afternoon dinner and spent the rest of the day
drinking claret and keeping up a concerted racket, each in imitation of
some musical instrument (Keats himself of the bassoon); but of this
pastime he soon got tired and rather ashamed. His social relations began
to extend themselves more than he much cared about, or thought
consistent with proper industry. We find him dining with Shelley's
friend, the genial and admirable stockbroker and man of letters Horace
Smith, in company with some fashionable wits, concerning whom he
reflects:--'They only served to convince me how superior humour is to
wit, in respect to enjoyment. These men say things which make one start,
without making one feel; they are all alike; they all know fashionables;
they have all a mannerism in their eating and drinking, in their mere
handling a decanter. They talked of Kean and his low company. "Would I
were with that company instead of yours," said I to myself.' Sunday
evenings were for a while set apart for dining with Haydon, and here, on
the last Sunday of the year, Keats met Wordsworth for the first time.

Wordsworth was on one of his rare visits to London, and had been staying
since the beginning of December with his brother Christopher at Lambeth
rectory. According to Crabb Robinson, he seems to have been in these
weeks in one of his stiffest and most domineering moods of egotism, much
ruffled by the moderate strictures of Coleridge in _Biographia
Literaria_ on certain qualities in his work and not at all appeased by
the splendid praise which so much out-balanced them. One evening in
conversation he went so far as to treat that great helpless genius, his
old bosom-friend and inspirer, with a rudeness of contradiction which
even the devoted Robinson found it hard to forgive.[2] Near about the
same time, hearing that the next Waverley novel was to be about Rob Roy,
he took down his ballad so named, read it aloud, and said 'I do not know
what more Mr Scott can have to say on the subject.'[3] Keats promptly
had full experience of Wordsworth's egotism, but also saw more genial
aspects of his character. Quite coolly and briefly he mentions those
circumstances of their first meeting which Haydon, in a famous passage
of his autobiography, thrusts before us in the insistent colour and
illumination of a magic-lantern picture. 'I think,' writes Keats,
'Ritchie is going to Fezan in Africa; thence to proceed if possible like
Mungo Park. Then there was Wordsworth, Lamb, Monkhouse, Landseer, and
your humble servant. Lamb got tipsy and blew up Kingston--proceeding so
far as to take the candle across the room, hold it to his face, and show
us what a soft fellow he was.' It should be explained that Ritchie was a
young explorer whom Tom had met the summer before on his run to Paris,
and Kingston a thick-witted, thick-skinned, intrusive but kindly
gentleman of lion-hunting proclivities, who as Comptroller of Stamps had
had some correspondence with Wordsworth and on the strength of this
invited himself to join Haydon's party in the poet's honour. Now for
Haydon:--

  On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my painting-room,
  with Jerusalem towering up behind us as a background. Wordsworth was
  in fine cue, and we had a glorious set-to,--on Homer, Shakespeare,
  Milton and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty;
  and his fun in the midst of Wordsworth's solemn intonations of oratory
  was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the intervals of Lear's
  passion. He made a speech and voted me absent, and made them drink my
  health. 'Now,' said Lamb, 'you old lake poet, you rascally poet, why
  do you call Voltaire dull?' We all defended Wordsworth, and affirmed
  there was a state of mind when Voltaire would be dull. 'Well,' said
  Lamb, 'here's to Voltaire--the Messiah of the French nation, and a
  very proper one too.'

  He then, in a strain of humour beyond description, abused me for
  putting Newton's head into my picture,--'a fellow,' said he, 'who
  believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides of a
  triangle. And then he and Keats agreed he had destroyed all the poetry
  of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. It was
  impossible to resist him, and we all drank 'Newton's health, and
  confusion to mathematics.' It was delightful to see the good-humour of
  Wordsworth in giving in to all our frolics without affectation and
  laughing as heartily as the best of us.

  By this time other friends joined, amongst them poor Ritchie who was
  going to penetrate by Fezzan to Timbuctoo. I introduced him to all as
  'a gentleman going to Africa.' Lamb seemed to take no notice; but all
  of a sudden he roared out, 'Which is the gentleman we are going to
  lose?' We then drank the victim's health, in which Ritchie joined.

  In the morning of this delightful day, a gentleman, a perfect
  stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my friends, had an
  enthusiasm for Wordsworth and begged I would procure him the happiness
  of an introduction. He told me he was a comptroller of stamps, and
  often had correspondence with the poet. I thought it a liberty; but
  still, as he seemed a gentleman, I told him he might come.

  When we retired to tea we found the comptroller. In introducing him to
  Wordsworth I forgot to say who he was. After a little time the
  comptroller looked down, looked up and said to Wordsworth, 'Don't you
  think, sir, Milton was a great genius?' Keats looked at me, Wordsworth
  looked at the comptroller. Lamb who was dozing by the fire turned
  round and said, 'Pray, sir, did you say Milton was a great genius?'
  'No, sir; I asked Mr Wordsworth if he were not.' 'Oh,' said Lamb,
  'then you are a silly fellow.' 'Charles! my dear Charles!' said
  Wordsworth; but Lamb, perfectly innocent of the confusion he had
  created, was off again by the fire.

  After an awful pause the comptroller said, 'Don't you think Newton a
  great genius?' I could not stand it any longer; Keats put his head
  into my books. Ritchie squeezed in a laugh. Wordsworth seemed asking
  himself, 'Who is this?' Lamb got up, and taking a candle, said, 'Sir,
  will you allow me to look at your phrenological development?' He then
  turned his back on the poor man, and at every question of the
  comptroller he chaunted--

    Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John
    Went to bed with his breeches on.

  The man in office, finding Wordsworth did not know who he was, said in
  a spasmodic and half-chuckling anticipation of assured victory, 'I
  have had the honour of some correspondence with you, Mr Wordsworth.'
  'With me, sir?' said Wordsworth, 'not that I remember.' 'Don't you,
  sir? I am a comptroller of stamps.' There was a dead silence;--the
  comptroller evidently thinking that was enough. While we were waiting
  for Wordsworth's reply, Lamb sung out

    Hey diddle diddle,
    The cat and the fiddle.

  'My dear Charles!' said Wordsworth,--

    Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John,

  chaunted Lamb, and then rising, exclaimed, 'Do let me have another
  look at that gentleman's organs.' Keats and I hurried Lamb into the
  painting-room, shut the door and gave way to inextinguishable
  laughter. Monkhouse followed and tried to get Lamb away. We went back
  but the comptroller was irreconcilable. We soothed and smiled and
  asked him to supper. He stayed though his dignity was sorely affected.
  However, being a good-natured man, we parted all in good humour, and
  no ill effects followed.

  All the while, until Monkhouse succeeded, we could hear Lamb
  struggling in the painting-room and calling at intervals, 'Who is that
  fellow? Allow me to see his organs once more.'

  It was indeed an immortal evening. Wordsworth's fine intonation as he
  quoted Milton and Virgil, Keats's eager inspired look, Lamb's quaint
  sparkle of lambent humour, so speeded the stream of conversation, that
  in my life I never passed a more delightful time. All our fun was
  within bounds. Not a word passed that an apostle might not have
  listened to. It was a night worthy of the Elizabethan age, and my
  solemn Jerusalem flashing up by the flame of the fire, with Christ
  hanging over us like a vision, all made up a picture which will long
  glow upon--

              that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude.

  Keats made Ritchie promise he would carry his _Endymion_ to the great
  desert of Sahara and fling it in the midst.

To complete our impression of Wordsworth at this time of his winter
visit to London in his forty-eighth year, let us turn for a moment to
Leigh Hunt's recollections of his looks and ways about the same time.

  Certainly I never beheld eyes that looked so inspired or supernatural.
  They were like fires half burning, half smouldering, with a sort of
  acrid fixture of regard, and seated at the end of two caverns. One
  might imagine Ezekiel or Isaiah to have had such eyes.... He had a
  dignified manner, with a deep roughish but not unpleasing voice, and
  an exalted mode of speaking. He had a habit of keeping his left hand
  in the bosom of his waistcoat; and in this attitude, except when he
  turned round to take one of the subjects of his criticism from the
  shelves, he was dealing forth his eloquent but hardly catholic
  judgments.

Hazlitt, in words written a few years later, gives a nearly similar
portrait:--

  He is above the middle size, with marked features, and an air somewhat
  stately and Quixotic. He reminds one of some of Holbein's heads,
  grave, saturnine, with a slight indication of sly humour.... He has a
  peculiar sweetness in his smile, and great depth and manliness and a
  rugged harmony in the tones of his voice. His manner of reading his
  own poetry is particularly imposing, and in his favourite passages his
  eye beams with preternatural lustre, and the meaning labours slowly up
  from his swelling breast.

Although the great man could praise or care for no contemporary poetry
save his own, and had none of the sympathetic or encouraging criticism
to bestow on Keats which to that ardent young spirit would have meant so
much, he nevertheless showed him no little personal kindness, receiving
him when he called and inviting him several times to dine or sup. On his
first visit Keats was kept waiting till the poet bustled in, full
dressed in stiff stock and knee breeches, in haste to keep a dinner
appointment with one of his official chiefs. This experience proved no
check to their acquaintance: neither did Wordsworth's chilling comment
when Keats was induced to read to him the hymn to Pan from _Endymion_.
'A very pretty piece of Paganism,' he remarked and that was all. Severn
was present at the gathering in Haydon's studio where this reading took
place. The evening's talk, he relates, ran much on the virtues of a
vegetable diet, which was for the moment, through the vehement advocacy
of Shelley, so much in vogue in Leigh Hunt's circle that even the ruddy
and robust Haydon gave himself out for a proselyte like the rest, until
friends one day caught him coming privily smacking his lips out of a
chop-house. Wordsworth was in a jocular mood, and asked his herbivorous
friends whether they did not welcome such a succulent morsel of animal
food as a chance caterpillar in their cabbage. Was it on the same
occasion that the sage and seer condescended to a pun, telling Haydon
that if he ever took the name of another artist, as some of the old
masters used to do, it should be Teniers, seeing that he had been ten
years working on his great picture, still unfinished, of Christ's Entry
into Jerusalem, in which Wordsworth and other leading personages of the
time were to figure among the crowd of lookers on?

A fortnight after their first meeting Keats re-affirms to his brother
the view he had formerly expressed to Haydon that 'If there were three
things superior in the modern world they were _The Excursion_, Haydon's
Pictures, and Hazlitt's depth of Taste.' About the same time, that is in
the course of January, he writes of having 'seen Wordsworth frequently':
and again 'I have seen a good deal of Wordsworth.' A later allusion
implies that he has seen him 'with his beautiful wife and his enchanting
sister.' At one meeting Keats must have heard talk or reading that
delighted him, for Severn tells how while he was toiling late one night
over his miniature painting, Keats burst into his lodging fresh from
Wordsworth's company and in a state of eager elation over his
experience. It is hard to refrain from conjecture as to what had
happened. What one would like to think is that Wordsworth had been
reading Keats some of those great passages in the _Prelude_ without
which the master cannot truly be more than half known and which
remained unpublished until the year of his death. Or may we possibly
trace a clue to the evening's enjoyment in this further note of
Hazlitt's on a phase of Wordsworth's conversation?--

  It is fine to hear him talk of the way in which certain subjects
  should have been treated by eminent poets, according to his notions of
  the art. Thus he finds fault with Dryden's description of Bacchus in
  the _Alexander's Feast_, as if he were a mere good-looking youth, or
  boon companion

    Flushed with a purple grace,
    He shows his honest face--

  Instead of representing the god returning from the conquest of India,
  crowned with vine-leaves, and drawn by panthers, and followed by
  troops of satyrs, of wild men and animals that he had tamed. You would
  think, in hearing him speak on this subject, that you saw Titian's
  picture of the meeting of Bacchus and Ariadne--so classic were his
  conceptions, so glowing his style.[4]

It is tempting to seek some kind of connexion between Keats in his great
Bacchic ode in _Endymion_ and Wordsworth in this vein of talk. Had we
not known that _Endymion_ was finished before the elder and the younger
poet met, we might have been inclined to attribute to Wordsworth's
eloquence some part of Keats's inspiration. And even as it is such
possibility remains open, for it must be remembered that Keats carefully
re-copied the several cantos of his poem during the spring, the fourth
canto not until March, at Teignmouth, and it is conceivable, though
unlikely, that the triumph of Bacchus might have been an addition made
in re-copying.

It was most likely a result of the interest taken by Wordsworth in Keats
that the young poet received at this time a friendly call, of which he
makes passing mention, from Crabb Robinson.

But the more Keats saw of Wordsworth himself, the more critically, as
his letters show, he came gradually to look upon him. He disliked the
idea of a man so revered dining with the foolish Kingston, and refused
to dine and meet him there. He regrets, after Wordsworth has gone, that
he has 'left a bad impression wherever he has visited in town by his
egotism, Vanity, and bigotry;' adding, 'yet he is a great poet if not a
philosopher.' The fullest expression of this critical attitude occurs in
a letter written to Reynolds at the beginning of February. Keats is for
the moment out of conceit with the poets of his own time; particularly
with Wordsworth, whom he had always devoutly reverenced from a distance,
and with Hunt, next to Cowden Clarke his earliest encourager and
sympathiser, whom to his disappointment he had lately found more ready
to carp than praise when he read him the early books of _Endymion_. It
seems Hunt would have liked the talk of Endymion and Peona to come
nearer his own key of simpering triviality in _Rimini_. 'He says,'
writes Keats 'the conversation is unnatural and too high-flown for
Brother and Sister--says it should be simple, forgetting do ye mind that
they are both overshadowed by a supernatural Power and perforce could
not talk like Francesca in the _Rimini_. He must first prove that
Caliban's poetry is unnatural. This with me completely overturns his
objections.' In revising _Endymion_ for press Keats proved his wise
adherence to his own point of view by cutting out some of the passages
most infected with the taint of Hunt's familiar tea-party manner. The
words in which he expresses his impatience of the several dogmatisms of
Wordsworth and Hunt are vital in relation to his own conception of
poetry and of its right aim and working:--

  It may be said that we ought to read our contemporaries, that
  Wordsworth etc., should have their due from us. But, for the sake of a
  few fine imaginative or domestic passages, are we to be bullied into a
  certain Philosophy engendered in the whims of an Egotist? Every man
  has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over
  them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself. Many a man
  can travel to the very bourne of Heaven, and yet want confidence to
  put down his half-seeing. Sancho will invent a Journey heavenward as
  well as anybody. We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us,
  and, if we do not agree, seems to put its hand into its breeches
  pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters
  into one's soul, and does not startle or amaze it with itself, but
  with its subject. How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would
  they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying
  out, 'Admire me, I am a violet! Dote upon me, I am a primrose!' Modern
  poets differ from the Elizabethans in this: each of the moderns like
  an Elector of Hanover governs his petty state, and knows how many
  straws are swept daily from the Causeways in all his dominions, and
  has a continual itching that all the Housewives should have their
  coppers well scoured. The ancients were Emperors of vast Provinces,
  they had only heard of the remote ones and scarcely cared to visit
  them. I will cut all this--I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt
  in particular.... I don't mean to deny Wordsworth's grandeur and
  Hunt's merit, but I mean to say we need not be teazed with grandeur
  and merit when we can have them uncontaminated and unobtrusive.

These winter letters of Keats are full of similar first fruits of young
reflection, thoughts forming or half-forming themselves in absolute
sincerity as he writes, intuitions of his first-endeavouring mind on the
search for vital truths of art and nature and humanity. Imperfect,
half-wrought phrases often come from him which prove, when you have
lived with them, to be more sufficient as well as more suggestive than
if they had been chiselled into precision by longer study and a more
confident mind. For instance: 'the excellence of every art is its
intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate from their
being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth': a sentence worth
whole treatises and fit, sketchy as it is, to serve as text to all that
can justly be discoursed concerning problems of art in its relation to
nature,--of realism, romance, and the rest. Or this:--

  Brown and Dilke walked with me and back to the Christmas pantomime. I
  had not a dispute, but a disquisition, with Dilke upon various
  subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck
  me what quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in
  literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously--I mean
  _Negative Capability_, that is, when a man is capable of being in
  uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching
  after fact and reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine
  isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from
  being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued
  through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with
  a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration,
  or rather obliterates all consideration.

Or this:--

  In poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from
  their centre.

  1st. I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by
  singularity; it should strike the reader as a wording of his own
  highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.

  2nd. Its touches of beauty should never be half-way, thereby making
  the reader breathless, instead of content. The rise, the progress, the
  setting of Imagery should, like the sun, come natural to him, shine
  over him, and set soberly, although in magnificence, leaving him in
  the luxury of twilight.

  But it is easier to think what poetry should be, than to write it. And
  this leads me to another axiom--That if poetry comes not as naturally
  as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all. However it may
  be with me, I cannot help looking into new countries with 'O for a
  muse of Fire to ascend!' If _Endymion_ serves me as a pioneer, perhaps
  I ought to be content--I have great reason to be content, for thank
  God I can read, and perhaps understand Shakespeare to his depths; and
  I have I am sure many friends, who, if I fail will attribute any
  change in my life and temper to humbleness rather than pride--to a
  cowering under the wings of great poets, rather than to a bitterness
  that I am not appreciated.

Cogitations of this cast, not less fresh than deep, and often throwing a
clear retrospective light on the moods and aims which governed him in
writing _Endymion_, are interspersed at the beginning of the year with
regrets at dissensions rife among his friends. The strain between Haydon
and Hunt had increased since the autumn, and now, over a sordid matter
of money borrowed by Mrs Hunt--by all accounts the most unabashed of
petty spongers--and not repaid, grew into an active quarrel. Another
still fiercer quarrel broke out between Haydon and Reynolds, who with
all his fine qualities seems to have been quick and touchy, and whom we
find later in open breach with his admirable brother-in-law Thomas Hood.
Keats was not involved. With his distinguished good sense and good heart
in matters of friendship, he knew how to keep in close and affectionate
touch with what was loveable or likeable in each of the disputants
severally. His comments are the best key to the best part of himself,
and show him as the true great spirit, by character not less than by
gift, among the group.

  Things have happened lately of great perplexity--you must have heard
  of them--Reynolds and Haydon retorting and recriminating, and parting
  for ever--the same thing has happened between Haydon and Hunt. It is
  unfortunate--Men should bear with each other: there lives not the Man
  who may not be cut up, aye lashed to pieces on his weakest side. The
  best of men have but a portion of good in them--a kind of spiritual
  yeast in their frames, which creates the ferment of existence--by
  which a Man is propelled to act, and strive, and buffet with
  Circumstance. The sure way, Bailey, is first to know a Man's and then
  be passive--if after that he insensibly draws you towards him then you
  have no power to break the link. Before I felt interested in either
  Reynolds or Haydon, I was well read in their faults; yet, knowing
  them, I have been cementing gradually with both. I have an affection
  for them both, for reasons almost opposite--and to both must I of
  necessity cling, supported always by the hope that, when a little
  time, a few years, shall have tried me more fully in their esteem, I
  may be able to bring them together. The time must come, because they
  have both hearts and they will recollect the best parts of each other,
  when this gust is overblown.

Of Haydon himself and of his powers as a painter Keats continued to
think as highly as ever, seeing in his pictures, as the friends and
companions of every ardent and persuasive worker in the arts are apt to
see, not so much the actual performance as the idea he had pre-conceived
of it in the light of his friend's enthusiastic ambition and eloquence.
Severn repeatedly insists on Keats's remarkably keen natural instinct
for and understanding of the arts both of music and painting. Cowden
Clarke's piano-playing had been one of the chief pleasures of his
school-days: as to the capacity he felt in himself for judging the works
of painting, here is his own scrupulously modest and sincere estimate
expressed to Haydon a little later:

  Believe me Haydon your picture is part of myself--I have ever been too
  sensible of the labyrinthian path to eminence in Art (judging from
  Poetry) ever to think I understood the emphasis of painting. The
  innumerable compositions and decompositions which take place between
  the intellect and its thousand materials before it arrives at that
  trembling delicate and snail-horn perception of beauty. I know not
  your many havens of intenseness--nor ever can know them: but for this
  I hope nought you achieve is lost upon me: for when a Schoolboy the
  abstract idea I had of an heroic painting--was what I cannot describe.
  I saw it somewhat sideways, large, prominent, round, and colour'd with
  magnificence--somewhat like the feel I have of Anthony and Cleopatra.
  Or of Alcibiades leaning on his Crimson Couch in his Galley, his broad
  shoulders imperceptibly heaving with the Sea.

With Hunt also, in spite of the momentary causes of annoyance we have
seen, Keats's intercourse continued frequent, while with Reynolds his
intimacy grew daily closer. At Hunt's he again saw something of Shelley.
'The Wednesday before last Shelley, Hunt, and I, wrote each a sonnet on
the river Nile,' he tells his brothers on the 16th of February, 1818.
The sonnets are preserved. They were to be written, it was agreed, in a
quarter of an hour. Shelley and Keats were up to time, but Hunt had to
sit up half the night to finish his. It was worth the pains, and with it
for once the small poet outdid the two great. 'I have been writing,'
continues Keats, 'at intervals, many songs and sonnets, and I long to be
at Teignmouth to read them over to you.' With the help of his
manuscripts or of the transcripts made from them by his friends, it is
possible to retrace the actual order of many of these fugitive pieces.
On the 16th of January was written the sonnet on Mrs Reynolds's cat,
perhaps Keats's best thing in the humorous vein; on the 21st, after
seeing in Leigh Hunt's possession a lock of hair reputed to be Milton's,
the address to that poet beginning 'Chief of organic numbers!' which he
sends to the prime Milton enthusiast among his friends, Benjamin Bailey,
with the comment, 'This I did at Hunt's, at his request,--perhaps I
should have done something better alone and at home.' The first two
lines,--

  Chief of organic numbers,
  Old scholar of the spheres!

read like an anticipation in the rough of the first stanza of Tennyson's
masterly set of alcaics already referred to, beginning 'O mighty-mouthed
inventor of harmonies.' To the 22nd belongs the sonnet, 'O golden
tongued Romance with serene lute,' in which Keats bids himself lay aside
(apparently) his Spenser,[5] in order to read again the more rousing and
human-passionate pages of _Lear_. This is one of the last of his sonnets
written in the Petrarchan form as followed by Milton and Wordsworth, and
from henceforth he follows the Shakespearean form almost exclusively. On
the 31st he writes to Reynolds in a rollicking mood, and sends him the
lines to Apollo beginning 'Hence Burgundy, Claret, and Port,' part rant
(the word is his own) pure and simple, part rant touched with genius,
and giving words to a very frequent and intense phase of feeling in
himself:--

  Aye, when the soul is fled
  Too high above our head,
  Affrighted do we gaze
  After its airy maze,
  As doth a mother wild,
  When her young infant child
  Is in an eagle's claws--
  And is not this the cause
  Of madness?--God of Song,
  Thou bearest me along
  Through, sights I scarce can bear:
  O let me, let me share
  With the hot lyre and thee,
  The staid Philosophy.
  Temper my lonely hours,
  And let me see thy bowers
  More unalarm'd!

By way of a sober conclusion to the same letter, he adds the very fine
and profoundly felt sonnet in the Shakespearean form beginning 'When I
have fears that I may cease to be,' which be calls his last. On the 3rd
of February he sends two spirited sets of verses in the favourite
four-beat measure, heptasyllable varied with octosyllable, of the later
Elizabethans and the youthful Milton, namely those to Robin Hood
(suggested by a set of sonnets by Reynolds on Sherwood Forest) and those
on the Mermaid Tavern. On the 4th comes another Shakespearean sonnet,
that beginning 'Time's sea has been five years at its slow ebb,' in
which he recalls the memory of an old, persistent, haunting love-fancy.
The two sonnets of January 31 and February 4 should be read strictly
together:--

  When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
  Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
    Hold like full garners the full-ripen'd grain;
  When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
  And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
  And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
  Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore
  Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
  Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

  Time's sea hath been five years at its slow ebb;
    Long hours have to and fro let creep the sand;
  Since I was tangled in thy beauty's web,
    And snared by the ungloving of thine hand.
  And yet I never look on midnight sky,
    But I behold thine eyes' well memoried light;
  I cannot look upon the rose's dye,
    But to thy cheek my soul doth take its flight;
  I cannot look on any budding flower,
    But my fond ear, in fancy at thy lips,
  And hearkening for a love-sound, doth devour
    Its sweets in the wrong sense:--Thou dost eclipse
  Every delight with sweet remembering,
  And grief unto my darling joys dost bring.

The former is far the richer in contents, and in the light of the
tragedy to come its two first quatrains now seem to thrill with
prophetic meaning. But what is singular is that in the third quatrain
should be recalled, in the same high strain of emotion, the vision of a
beauty seen but not even accosted three-and-a-half years earlier (not
really five) in the public gardens at Vauxhall, and then (August, 1814)
addressed in what are almost the earliest of Keats's dated verses, those
in which he calls for a 'brimming bowl,'--

  From my despairing heart to charm
  The Image of the fairest form
  That e'er my reveling eyes beheld,
  That e'er my wandering fancy spell'd....[6]

Such, Woodhouse assures us, is the case, and the same memory fills the
second sonnet: but this it might be possible to take rather as a fine
Shakespearean exercise than as an expression of profound feeling. On the
5th, Keats sends another sonnet postponing compliance for the present
with an invitation of Leigh Hunt's to compose something in honour, or in
emulation, of Spenser; and on the 8th, the sonnet in praise of the
colour blue composed by way of protest against one of Reynolds
preferring black, at least in the colouring of feminine eyes. About the
same time he agreed with Reynolds that they should each write some
metrical tales from Boccaccio, and publish them in a joint volume; and
began at once for his own part with the first few stanzas of _Isabella_
or the _Pot of Basil_. A little later in this so prolific month of
February we find him rejoicing in the song of the thrush and blackbird,
and melted into feelings of indolent pleasure and receptivity under the
influence of spring winds and dissolving rain. He theorizes pleasantly
in a letter to Reynolds on the virtues and benefits of this state of
mind, translating the thrush's music into some blank-verse lines of
subtle and haunting cadence, in which, disowning for the nonce his
habitual doctrine of the poet's paramount need of knowledge, he makes
the thrush say,

  O fret not after knowledge--I have none,
  And yet my song comes native with the warmth,
  O fret not after knowledge--I have none,
  And yet the evening listens.

In the course of the next fortnight we find him in correspondence with
Taylor about the corrections to _Endymion_; and soon afterwards making a
clearance of borrowed books, and otherwise preparing to flit. His
brother George, who had been taking care of Tom at Teignmouth since
December, was now obliged to come to town, bent on a scheme of marriage
and emigration; and Tom's health having made a momentary rally, Keats
was unwilling that he should leave Teignmouth, and determined to join
him there. He started in the second week of March, and stayed almost two
months. It was an unlucky season for weather,--the soft-buffeting sheets
and misty drifts of Devonshire rain renewing themselves wave on wave, in
the inexhaustible way all lovers of that country know, throughout almost
the whole spring, and preventing him from getting more than occasional
tantalizing snatches of enjoyment in the beauty of the scenery, the
walks, and flowers. His letters are full of whimsical objurgations not
only against the climate, but against the male inhabitants, whose fibre
he chooses to conceive relaxed by it:--

  You may say what you will of Devonshire: the truth is, it is a
  splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod
  county. The hills are very beautiful, when you get a sight of 'em--the
  primroses are out, but then you are in--the Cliffs are of a fine deep
  colour, but then the Clouds are continually vieing with them--the
  women like your London people in a sort of negative way--because the
  native men are the poorest creatures in England--because Government
  never have thought it worth while to send a recruiting party among
  them. When I think of Wordsworth's Sonnet, 'Vanguard of Liberty! ye
  men of Kent!' the degenerated race about me are Pulvis ipecac.
  simplex--a strong dose. Were I a corsair, I'd make a descent on the
  south coast of Devon; if I did not run the chance of having Cowardice
  imputed to me. As for the men, they'd run away into the Methodist
  meeting-houses, and the women would be glad of it.... Such a quelling
  Power have these thoughts over me that I fancy the very air of a
  deteriorating quality. I fancy the flowers, all precocious, have an
  Acrasian spell about them--I feel able to beat off the Devonshire
  waves like soap-froth. I think it well for the honour of Britain that
  Julius Caesar did not first land in this County. A Devonshirer
  standing on his native hills is not a distinct object--he does not
  show against the light--a wolf or two would dispossess him.

A man of west-country descent should have known better. Why did not the
ghost of William Browne of Tavistock arise and check Keats's hand, and
recite for his rebuke the burst in praise of Devon from _Britannia's
Pastorals_, with its happy echo of the Virgilian _Salve magna parens_
and _Haec genus acre virum_?--

  Hail thou my native soil: thou blessed plot
  Whose equal all the world affordeth not!
  Shew me who can so many christall rills,
  Such sweet-clothed vallies, or aspiring hills,
  Such wood-ground, pastures, quarries, wealthy mines,
  Such rocks in whom the diamond fairly shines:
  And if the earth can shew the like again;
  Yet will she fail in her sea-ruling men.
  Time never can produce men to o'er-take
  The fames of Grenville, Davies, Gilbert, Drake,
  Or worthy Hawkins or of thousands more
  That by their power made the Devonian shore
  Mock the proud Tagus.

Of the Devonshire girls Keats thought better than of their menkind, and
writes and rimes on them with a certain skittishness of admiration. With
one local family, a Mrs Jeffrey and her daughters, he and his brothers
were on terms of warm friendship, as is shown by his correspondence with
them a year later. One of the daughters married afterwards a Mr Prowse,
and published two volumes of very tolerable sentimental verse: some of
their contents, as interpreted (says Mr Buxton Forman) by Teignmouth
tradition, would indicate that her heart had been very deeply touched by
the young poet during his stay: but of responsive feelings on his own
part his letters give no hint, and it was only a few weeks later that he
wrote how his love for his brothers had hitherto stifled any impression
that a woman might have made on him.

Besides his constant occupation in watching and cheering the invalid
Tom, who had a relapse just after he came down, Keats was busy during
these Devonshire days seeing through the press the last sheets of
_Endymion_. He also composed, with the exception of the few verses he
had begun at Hampstead, the whole of _Isabella_ or _The Pot of Basil_,
the first of his longer poems written with real maturity of art and
certainty of touch. At the same time, no doubt with his great intended
effort, _Hyperion_, in mind, he was studying and appreciating Milton as
he had never done before. He had been steeped since boyhood in the charm
of the minor poems, from the _Vacation Exercise_ to _Lycidas_, and had
read but not greatly cared for _Paradise Lost_, until first Severn, and
then more energetically Bailey, had insisted that this was a reproach to
him: and he now threw himself upon that poem, and penetrated with the
grasp and swiftness of genius, as his marginal criticisms show, into the
very essence of its power and beauty. His correspondence with his
friends, particularly Bailey and Reynolds, is during this same time
unusually sustained and full. Sometimes his vein is light and titterly
(to use a word of his own) as I have indicated, and sometimes he masks
an anxious heart beneath a lively manner, as thus:--

  But ah Coward! to talk at this rate to a sick man, or, I hope, to one
  that was sick--for I hope by this you stand on your right foot. If you
  are not--that's all,--I intend to cut all sick people if they do not
  make up their minds to cut Sickness--a fellow to whom I have a
  complete aversion, and who strange to say is harboured and
  countenanced in several houses where I visit--he is sitting now quite
  impudent between me and Tom--he insults me at poor Jem Rice's--and you
  have seated him before now between us at the Theatre, when I thought
  he looked with a longing eye at poor Kean. I shall say, once for all,
  to my friends, generally and severally, cut that fellow, or I cut you.

On another day he recurs to the mood of half real half mock impatience
against those who rub the bloom off things of beauty by over-commenting
and over-interpreting them, a mood natural to a spirit dwelling so
habitually and intuitively at the heart of beauty as his:--

  It has as yet been a Mystery to me how and where Wordsworth went. I
  can't help thinking he has returned to his Shell--with his beautiful
  Wife and his enchanting Sister. It is a great Pity that People should
  by associating themselves with the finest things, spoil them. Hunt has
  damned Hampstead and masks and sonnets and Italian tales. Wordsworth
  has damned the lakes. Milman has damned the old drama--West has damned
  wholesale. Peacock has damned satire--Ollier has damn'd Music--Hazlitt
  has damned the bigoted and the blue-stockinged; how durst the Man? he
  is your only good damner, and if ever I am damn'd--damn me if I
  shouldn't like him to damn me.

Once, writing to Reynolds, he resumes his habit of a year and a half
earlier, and casts his fancies and reflections into rime. Beginning
playfully, he tells of an odd jumble of incongruous images that had
crossed his brain, a kind of experience expressed by him elsewhere in
various strains of verse, _e.g._ the finished poem _Fancy_ and the
careless lines beginning 'Welcome Joy, and welcome Sorrow.' He supposes
that some people are not subject to such freaks of the mind's eye, but
have it consistently haunted by fine things such as he next proceeds to
conjure up from memory,--

  Some Titian colours touch'd into real life,--
  The sacrifice goes on; the pontiff knife
  Gleams in the Sun, the milk-white heifer lows,
  The pipes go shrilly, the libation flows;
  A white sail shows above the green-head cliff,
  Moves round the point, and throws her anchor stiff;
  The mariners join hymn with those on land.

There exists no such picture of a sacrifice by Titian, and what Keats
was thinking of, I feel sure, was the noble 'Sacrifice to Apollo' by
Claude from the Leigh Court collection, which he had seen at the British
Institution in 1816 (hung, as it happened, next to Titian's Europa from
Cobham Hall), and which evidently worked deeply on his mind. To memory
of it is probably due that magic vision of a little town emptied of its
folk on a morning of sacrifice, which he evoked a year later in the ode
on a Grecian Urn. It shows to the right an altar in front of a temple of
Apollo, and about the altar a group including king and priest and a
young man holding down a victim ox by the horns; people with baskets and
offerings coming up from behind the temple; and to the left tall trees
with a priest leading in another victim by the horns, and a woman with a
jar bringing in libation; a little back, two herdsmen with their goats;
a river spanned by a bridge and winding towards a sea-bay partly
encircled by mountains which close the view, and on the edge of the bay
the tower and roofs of a little town indistinctly seen. Recollection of
this Claude leads Keats on quickly to that of another, the famous
'Enchanted Castle,' which he partly mixes up with it, and partly
transforms by fantasy into something quite different from what it really
is. He forgets the one human figure in the foreground, describes figures
and features of the landscape which are not there, and remembering that
the architecture combines ancient Roman with mediæval castellated and
later Palladian elements, invents for it far-fetched origins and
associations which in a more careless fashion almost remind one of those
invented by Pope for his Temple of Fame. (A year later, all this
effervescence of the imagination about the picture had subsided, and
the distilled and concentrated essence of its romance was expressed--so
at least I conceive--in the famous 'magic casement' phrase at the end of
the Nightingale ode).[7]

[Illustration: PL. VI

A SACRIFICE TO APOLLO

FROM AN ENGRAVING BY VIVARES AND WOOLLETT AFTER CLAUDE]

From this play of fancy about two half-remembered pictures Keats turns
suddenly to reflections, which he would like to banish but cannot, on
the 'eternal fierce destruction' which is part of nature's law:--

  But I saw too distinct into the core
  Of an eternal fierce destruction,
  And so from happiness I far was gone.
  Still am I sick of it, and tho', to-day,
  I've gathered young spring-leaves, and flowers gay
  Of periwinkle and wild strawberry,
  Still do I that most fierce destruction see,
  The Shark at savage prey,--the Hawk at pounce,--
  The gentle Robin, like a Pard or Ounce,
  Ravening a worm,--Away, ye horrid moods!
  Moods of one's mind!

The letters of this date should be read and re-read by all who want to
get to the centre of Keats's mind or to hold a key to the understanding
of his deepest poetry. The richest of them all is that in which he sends
the fragments of an ode to Maia written on May day with the (alas!
unfulfilled) promise to finish it 'in good time.' The same letter
contains the re-assertion of a purpose declared in a letter of a week
before to Mr Taylor in the phrases, 'I find I can have no enjoyment in
the world but the continual drinking of knowledge. I find there is no
worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good to the world.... There is
but one way for me. The road lies through application, study and
thought. I will pursue it.' The mood of the verses interpreting the song
of the thrush a few weeks earlier has passed, the reader will note,
clean out of the poet's mind. To Reynolds his words are:--

  An extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people--it takes away
  the heat and fever; and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the
  Burden of the Mystery, a thing which I begin to understand a little,
  and which weighed upon you in the most gloomy and true sentence in
  your letter. The difference of high Sensations with and without
  knowledge appears to me this: in the latter case we are falling
  continually ten thousand fathoms deep and being blown up again,
  without wings, and with all [the] horror of a bare-shouldered
  creature--in the former case, our shoulders are fledged, and we go
  through the same air and space without fear.

Let it never be forgotten that 'sensations' contrasted with 'thoughts'
mean for Keats not pleasures and experiences of the senses as opposed to
those of the mind, but direct intuitions of the imagination as opposed
to deliberate processes of the understanding; and that by 'philosophy'
he does not mean metaphysics but knowledge and the fruits of reading
generally.

The same letter, again, contains an interesting meditation on the
relative qualities of genius in Milton and Wordsworth as affected by the
relative stages of history at which they lived, and on the further
question whether Wordsworth was a greater or less poet than Milton by
virtue of being more taken up with human passions and problems. This
speculation leads on to one of Keats's finest passages of life-wisdom:--

  And here I have nothing but surmises, from an uncertainty whether
  Milton's apparently less anxiety for Humanity proceeds from his seeing
  further or not than Wordsworth: And whether Wordsworth has in truth
  epic passion, and martyrs himself to the human heart, the main region
  of his song. In regard to his genius alone--we find what he says true
  as far as we have experienced and we can judge no further but by
  larger experience--for axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they
  are proved upon our pulses. We read fine things, but never feel them
  to the full until we have gone the same steps as the author.--I know
  this is not plain; you will know exactly my meaning when I say that
  now I shall relish _Hamlet_ more than I have ever done--Or,
  better--you are sensible no man can set down Venery as a bestial or
  joyless thing until he is sick of it, and therefore all philosophising
  on it would be mere wording. Until we are sick, we understand not; in
  fine, as Byron says, 'Knowledge is sorrow'; and I go on to say that
  'Sorrow is wisdom'--and further for aught we can know for certainty
  'Wisdom is folly.'

[Illustration: PL. VII

THE ENCHANTED CASTLE

FROM AN ENGRAVING BY VIVARES AND WOOLLETT AFTER CLAUDE]

Presently follows the famous chain of images by which Keats, searching
and probing for himself along pathways of the spirit parallel to those
followed by Wordsworth in the _Lines composed a few miles above Tintern
Abbey_, renders account to himself of the stage of development to which
his mind has now reached:--

  Well--I compare human life to a large Mansion of many apartments, two
  of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut
  upon me. The first we step into we call the Infant, or Thoughtless
  Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think. We remain
  there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second
  Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to
  hasten to it; but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the
  awakening of the thinking principle within us--we no sooner get into
  the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought,
  than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see
  nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in
  delight. However among the effects this breathing is father of is that
  tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of
  Man--of convincing one's nerves that the world is full of Misery and
  Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness, and oppression--whereby this Chamber of
  Maiden Thought becomes gradually darkened, and at the same time, on
  all sides of it, many doors are set open--but all dark--all leading to
  dark passages. We see not the balance of good and evil; we are in a
  mist, _we_ are now in that state, we feel the 'Burden of the Mystery.'
  To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he
  wrote _Tintern Abbey_, and it seems to me that his genius is
  explorative of those dark Passages. Now if we live, and go on
  thinking, we too shall explore them.

Here is a typical case of the method of evocation as against the method
of exposition. Wordsworth's lines are written with a high, almost an
inspired, power of describing and putting into direct words the
successive moods of a spirit gradually ripening and deepening in the
power of communion with nature, and through nature, with all life. But
Keats, fully as he has pondered them, cannot be satisfied that they fit
his own case until he has called up the history of his similar
experiences in the form natural to him, the form, that is, of concrete
similitudes or visions of the imagination--the Thoughtless Chamber, the
Chamber of Maiden Thought with its gradual darkening and its many
outlets standing open to be explored. It is significant that such
visions should still be of architecture, of halls and chambers in an
imagined mysterious building.

Apart from his growing sense of the darker sides of human existence and
of the mysteries of good and evil, Keats was suffering at this time from
the pain of a family break-up now imminent. George Keats had made up his
mind to emigrate to America, and embark his capital, or as much of it as
he could get possession of, in business there. Besides the wish to push
his own fortunes, a main motive of this resolve on George's part was the
desire to be in a position as quickly as possible to help or if need be
support, his poet-brother. He persuaded the girl to whom he had long
been attached, Miss Georgiana Wylie, to share his fortunes, and it was
settled that they were to be married and sail early in the summer. Some
of Keats's letters during the last weeks of his stay at Teignmouth are
taken up with his plans for the time immediately following this change.
He wavered for a while between two incompatible purposes. One was to go
for a summer's walking tour through Scotland with Charles Brown. 'I have
many reasons,' he writes to Reynolds, 'for going wonder-ways; to make my
winter chair free from spleen; to enlarge my vision; to escape
disquisitions on poetry, and Kingston-criticism; to promote digestion
and economize shoe-leather.' (How 'economize,' one wonders?) 'I'll have
leather buttons and belt, and if Brown hold his mind, "over the hills we
go." If my books will keep me to it, then will I take all Europe in
turn, and see the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them.' Here we
find Keats in his turn caught by the romance of wild lands and of travel
which had in various ways been so much of an inspiration to Byron and
Shelley before him. A fortnight later we find him inclining to give up
this purpose under an overmastering sense of the inadequacy of his own
attainments, and of the necessity of acquiring knowledge, and ever more
knowledge, to sustain the flight of poetry.

The habit of close self-observation and self-criticism is in most
natures that possess it allied with vanity and egoism; but it was not so
in Keats, who without a shadow of affectation judges himself, both in
his strength and weakness, as the most clear-sighted and disinterested
friend might judge. He is inclined, when not on the defensive against
what he felt to be foolish criticism, to under-rate rather than to
overrate his own work, and in his correspondence of the previous year we
have found him perfectly aware that in writing _Endymion_ he has rather
been working off a youthful ferment of the mind than producing a sound
or satisfying work of poetry. And when the time comes to write a preface
to the poem, he in a first draft makes confession to the public of his
'non-opinion of himself' in terms both a little too intimate and too
fidgeting and uneasy. Reynolds seeing the draft at once recognised that
it would not do, and in criticizing it to Keats seems to have told him
that it was too much in the manner of Leigh Hunt. In deference to his
judgment Keats at once abandoned it, and a second attempt says briefly,
with perfect dignity and taste, all that can justly be said in dispraise
of his work. He warns the reader to expect 'great inexperience,
immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a
deed accomplished,' and adds most unboastfully:--'it is just that this
youngster should die away: a sad thought for me, if I had not some hope
that while it is dwindling I may be plotting, and fitting myself for
verses fit to live.'

Keats and Tom, the latter for the moment easier in health, were back at
Hampstead in the last week of May, in time for the marriage of their
brother George with Miss Georgiana Wylie. This was the young lady to
whom Keats had rimed a valentine for his brother two years earlier (the
lines beginning 'Hadst thou liv'd in days of old') and to whom he had
also on his own account addressed the charming sonnet, 'Nymph of the
downward smile and sidelong glance.' With no other woman or girl friend
was he ever on such easy and cordial terms of intimacy. The wedding took
place 'a week ago,' writes Keats on June 4, and about the same date, in
order that he may not miss seeing as much of the young couple as
possible before their departure, he declines a warm invitation from
Bailey to visit him again at Oxford. Writing, as usual to this
correspondent, with absolute openness, Keats shows that he is suffering
from one of his moods of overmastering depression. First it takes the
form of apathy. Bailey had written eagerly and judiciously in praise of
_Endymion_ in the _Oxford Herald_. Keats replies on June 1:--

  My intellect must be in a degenerating state--it must be--for when I
  should be writing about--God knows what--I am troubling you with moods
  of my own mind, or rather body, for mind there is none. I am in that
  temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come up to
  the top--I know very well 'tis all nonsense. In a short time I hope I
  shall be in a temper to feel sensibly your mention of my book. In vain
  have I waited till Monday to have any Interest in that, or anything
  else. I feel no spur at my Brother's going to America, and am almost
  stony-hearted about his wedding. All this will blow over. All I am
  sorry for is having to write to you in such a time--but I cannot force
  my letters in a hotbed. I could not feel comfortable in making
  sentences for you.

Nine days later the mood has deepened to one of positive despondency,
but it is the despondency of a great and generous spirit:--

  Were it in my choice, I would reject a Petrarchal coronation--on
  account of my dying day, and because women have cancers. I should not
  by right speak in this tone to you for it is an incendiary spirit that
  would do so. Yet I am not old enough or magnanimous enough to
  annihilate self--and it would perhaps be paying you an ill compliment.
  I was in hopes some little time back to be able to relieve your
  dulness by my spirits--to point out things in the world worth your
  enjoyment--and now I am never alone without rejoicing that there is
  such a thing as death--without placing my ultimate in the glory of
  dying for a great human purpose. Perhaps if my affairs were in a
  different state, I should not have written the above--you shall judge:
  I have two brothers; one is driven, by The 'burden of Society,' to
  America; the other, with an exquisite love of life, is in a lingering
  state. My love for my Brothers, from the early loss of our parents,
  and even from earlier misfortunes, has grown into an affection
  'passing the love of women.' I have been ill-tempered with them--I
  have vexed them--but the thought of them has always stifled the
  impression that any woman might otherwise have made upon me. I have a
  sister too, and may not follow them either to America or to the grave.
  Life must be undergone, and I certainly derive some consolation from
  the thought of writing one or two more poems before it ceases.

Meanwhile his fluctuations of purpose between a plunge into a life of
solitude and study and an excursion in Brown's company to Scotland had
been decided in favour of the Scottish tour. George and his bride having
to set out for Liverpool on June 22, it was arranged that Keats and
Brown should accompany them so far on their way to the north. The coach
started from the Swan and two Necks in Lad Lane, and on the first day
stopped for dinner at Redbourne near St Albans, where Keats's friend of
medical student days, Mr Stephens, was in practice. He came to shake
hands with the travelling party at the poet's request, and many years
afterwards wrote an account of the interview, the chief point of which
is a description of Mrs George Keats. 'Rather short, not what might be
called strictly handsome, but looked like a being whom any man of
moderate sensibility might easily love. She had the imaginative poetical
cast. Somewhat singular and girlish in her attire.... There was
something original about her, and John seemed to regard her as a being
whom he delighted to honour, and introduced her with evident
satisfaction.'


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Cary's Dante: _Inferno_, iv, 126.

  [2] _Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson_, as quoted by W. Knight, _Life of
    Wordsworth_, ii. 228-9.

  [3] C.C. Clarke, _Recollections of Writers_, pp. 149-50.

  [4] Hazlitt, _The Spirit of the Age_: Collected Works, iv, 276.

  [5] Woodhouse suggests that the romance which he lays aside is his
    own _Endymion_, meaning his task of seeing it through the press: but
    this must surely be a mistake.

  [6] Woodhouse Transcripts (Poetry II) in Crewe MS. These verses are
    only to be found in the latest editions of Keats. They are not good,
    but interesting as containing in embryo ideas which afterwards grew
    into great poetry in the nightingale ode, the first book of
    _Endymion_, and the _Ode to Melancholy_.

  [7] The 'Enchanted Castle,' which Keats explicitly names, belonged at
    this date to Mr Wells of Redleaf, and was not exhibited until 1819,
    so that he probably knew it only through the engraving by Vivarès and
    Woollett.



CHAPTER IX

JUNE-AUGUST 1818: THE SCOTTISH TOUR

  First sight of Windermere--Ambleside, Rydal, Keswick--Attitude towards
  scenery--Ascent of Skiddaw--A country dancing-school--Dumfries--The
  Galloway coast--Meg Merrilies--Flying visit to Belfast--Contrasts and
  reflections--The Duchess of Dunghill--The Ayrshire coast--In Burns's
  cottage--Lines on his pilgrimage--Through Glasgow to Loch Lomond--A
  confession--Loch Awe to the coast--Hardships--Kerre a and
  Mull--Staffa--A sea cathedral--Ben Nevis--Tour cut short--Return to
  Hampstead.


The farewells at Liverpool over, Keats and Brown went on by coach to
Lancaster, thence to begin their tour on foot. Keats took for his
reading one book only, the miniature three-volume edition of Cary's
Dante. Brown, it would appear, carried a pocket Milton. They found the
town of Lancaster in an uproar with the preparations for a contested
election and were glad to leave it. Rising at four in the morning (June
25th) to make a start before breakfast, they were detained by a
downpour, during which Brown preached patience from _Samson Agonistes_;
at seven they set out in a still dripping mist; breakfasted at
Bolton-le-Sands; stopped to dine at the village of Burton-in-Kendal, and
found the inns crowded, to their hosts' distraction, with soldiers
summoned by the Lowther interest to keep order at the election. This was
the famous contest where Brougham had the effrontery, as his opponents
considered it, to go down and challenge for the first time the power of
that great family in their own country. The same state of things
prevailed farther down the road. Hearing that they could not hope to
find a bed at Kendal, they slept in a mean roadside inn at End Moor,
taking interested note of a sad old dog of a drunkard, fallen from
better days, whom they found there; and the next morning walked on,
passing Kendal on their way, as far as Bowness on Windermere. As they
dropped down the hill and came in sight of the lake the weather yielded
fine effects of clearance after rain; and Brown, in the account compiled
twenty years later from his diaries written at the time,[1] expatiates
in full romantic vein on the joy and amazement with which Keats and he
drank in the beauties of the varied and shifting scene before them:--

  On the next morning, after reaching Kendal, we had our first really
  joyous walk of nine miles towards the lake of Windermere. The country
  was mild and romantic, the weather fine, though not sunny, while the
  fresh mountain air, and many larks about us, gave us unbounded
  delight. As we approached the lake the scenery became more and more
  grand and beautiful, and from time to time we stayed our steps, gazing
  intently on it. Hitherto, Keats had witnessed nothing superior to
  Devonshire; but, beautiful as that is, he was now tempted to speak of
  it with indifference. At the first turn from the road, before
  descending to the hamlet of Bowness, we both simultaneously came to a
  full stop. The lake lay before us. His bright eyes darted on a
  mountain-peak, beneath which was gently floating on a silver cloud;
  thence to a very small island, adorned with the foliage of trees, that
  lay beneath us, and surrounded by water of ? glorious hue, when he
  exclaimed--'How can I believe in that a--surely it cannot be!' He
  warmly asserted that no view in the world could equal this--that it
  must beat all Italy--yet, having moved onward but a hundred
  yards--catching the further extremity of the lake, he thought it 'more
  and more wonderfully beautiful!' The trees far and near, the grass
  immediately around us, the fern and the furze in their most luxuriant
  growth, all added to the charm. Not a mist, but an imperceptible
  vapour bestowed a mellow, softened tint over the immense mountains on
  the opposite side and at the further end of the lake.

After a bathe and a midday meal at Bowness the friends walked on with
ever increasing delight to Ambleside. Spending the night there they
scrambled about the neighbouring waterfalls, and endured as patiently as
they could the advances of a youth lately from Oxford, touring knapsack
on back like themselves but painfully bent on showing himself off for a
scholar and buck about town, airing his pedigree and connexions while
affecting to make light of them. The next day they went on by Grasmere
to Rydal, where they paused that Keats might call and pay his respects
to Wordsworth. But the poet was away at Lowther Castle electioneering
(he had been exerting himself vigorously in the Tory and Lowther
interest since the spring in prospect of this contest). Complete want of
sympathy with the cause of his absence made Keats's disappointment the
keener; and finding none of the family at home he could do no more than
leave a note of regret. The same afternoon the travellers reached the
hamlet of Wythburn and slept there as well as fleas would allow,
intending to climb Helvellyn the next morning. Heavy rain interfering,
they pursued their way by Thirlmere to Keswick, made the circuit of
Derwentwater, visited the Druids' Circle and the Falls of Lodore, and
set out at four the next morning to climb Skiddaw. A cloud-cap settling
down compelled them to stop a little short of the summit, and they
resumed their tramp by Bassenthwaite into the relatively commonplace
country lying between the lakes and Carlisle, making their next night's
resting-place at the old market town of Ireby.

I have shown by a specimen how Brown, working from his diaries of the
tour, expatiates on his and his companion's enthusiasm over the romantic
scenes they visited. Keats in his own letters says comparatively little
about the scenery, and that quite simply and quietly, not at all with
the descriptive enthusiasm of the picturesque tourist: hardly indeed
with so much of that quality as the sedate and fastidious Gray had shown
in his itineraries fifty years before. Partly, no doubt, a certain
instinctive reticence, a restraining touch of the Greek [Greek: aidios],
keeps him from fluent words on the beauties that most deeply moved him:
his way rather is to let them work silently in his being until at the
right moment, if the right moment comes, their essence and vital power
shall distil themselves for him into a phrase of poetry. Partly, also,
the truth is that an intensely active, intuitive genius for nature like
his hardly needs the stimulus of nature's beauties for long or at their
highest power, but on a minimum of experience can summon up and multiply
for itself spirit sunsets, and glories of dream lake and mountain,
richer and more varied than the mere receptive lover of scenery can
witness and register in memory during a lifetime of travel and pursuit.
In this respect Keats's letters written on his northern tour seem more
essentially the letters of a poet than Shelley's from Switzerland and
Italy. Shelley pours out long, set, detailed descriptions, written as
any cultivated and enthusiastic observer visiting such scenes for the
first time might write, only with more beauty and resource of language,
rather than as one made by imagination a born partner and co-creator
with nature herself, free by birthright of her glories and knowing them
all, as it were, beforehand. Keats's way of telling about his travels is
quite familiar and unstrained. Here is a paragraph from his first letter
to his brother Tom, written at Keswick after walking round Derwentwater
and climbing Skiddaw:--

  I had an easy climb among the streams, about the fragments of Rocks,
  and should have got I think to the summit, but unfortunately I was
  damped by slipping one leg into a squashy hole. There is no great body
  of water, but the accompaniment is delightful; for it oozes out from a
  cleft in perpendicular Rocks, all fledged with ash and other beautiful
  trees. It is a strange thing how they got there. At the south end of
  the Lake the Mountains of Borrowdale are perhaps as fine as anything
  we have seen. On our return from this circuit, we ordered dinner, and
  set forth about a mile and a half on the Penrith road, to see the
  Druid temple. We had a fag up hill, rather too near dinner-time, which
  was rendered void by the gratification of seeing those aged stones on
  a gentle rise in the midst of the Mountains, which at that time
  darkened all around, except at the fresh opening of the Vale of St.
  John. We went to bed rather fatigued, but not so much so as to hinder
  us getting up this morning to mount Skiddaw. It promised all along to
  be fair, and we had fagged and tugged nearly to the top, when, at
  half-past six, there came a Mist upon us, and shut out the view. We
  did not, however, lose anything by it: we were high enough without
  mist to see the coast of Scotland--the Irish Sea--the hills beyond
  Lancaster--and nearly all the large ones of Cumberland and
  Westmoreland, particularly Helvelleyn and Scawfell. It grew colder and
  colder as we ascended, and we were glad, at about three parts of the
  way, to taste a little rum which the Guide brought with him, mixed,
  mind ye, with Mountain water. I took two glasses going and one
  returning. It is about six miles from where I am writing to the top.
  So we have walked ten miles before Breakfast to-day. We went up with
  two others, very good sort of fellows. All felt, on arising into the
  cold air, that same elevation which a cold bath gives one--I felt as
  if I were going to a Tournament.

For an instant only, the poet in Keats speaks vividly in the tournament
touch; and farther back, illustrating what I have said about his
instinct for distillation rather than description, will be found the
germs of two famous passages in his later verse, the 'dark-clustered
trees' that

  Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep

in the _Ode to Psyche_, and the lines in _Hyperion_ about the

                         dismal cirque
  Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor
  When the chill rain begins at shut of eve,
  In dull November, and their chancel vault,
  The Heaven itself, is blinded throughout night.

A change, it should be added, was coming over Keats's thoughts and
feelings whereby natural scenery in general was beginning to interest
him less and his fellow creatures more. In the acuteness of childish and
boyish sensation, among the suburban fields or on seaside holidays, he
had instinctively, as if by actual partnership with and self-absorption
into nature, gained enough delighted knowledge of her ways and doings
for his faculties to work on through a lifetime of poetry; and now, in
his second chamber of Maiden-thought, the appeal of nature, even at its
most thrilling, yields in his mind to that of humanity. 'Scenery is
fine,' he had already written from Devonshire in the spring, 'but human
nature is finer.' So far as concerns shrewd and interested observation
of human types encountered by the way, he had a sympathetic companion in
Brown, whose diary sets effectively before us alike the sodden,
wheedling old toper, staggering with hanging arms like a bear on its
hind feet, in the inn at End Moor, and the vulgar, uneasy gentlemanhood
of the flash Oxford man at Ambleside. Here is Brown's account of what
they saw at Ireby:--

  It is a dull, beggarly looking place. Our inn was remarkably clean and
  neat, and the old host and hostess were very civil and
  prepossessing--but, heyday! what were those obstreperous doings
  overhead? It was a dancing school under the tuition of a travelling
  master! Folks here were as partial to dancing as their neighbours, the
  Scotch; and every little farmer sent his young ones to take lessons.
  We went upstairs to witness the skill of these rustic boys and
  girls--fine, healthy, clean-dressed, and withal perfectly orderly, as
  well as serious in their endeavours. We noticed some among them quite
  handsome, but the attention of none was drawn aside to notice us. The
  instant the fiddle struck up, the slouch in the gait was lost, the
  feet moved, and gracefully, with complete conformity to the notes; and
  they wove the figure, sometimes extremely complicated to my
  inexperienced eyes, without an error, or the slightest pause. There
  was no sauntering, half-asleep country dance among them; all were
  inspired.

And here is the same scene as touched by Keats:--

  We were greatly amused by a country dancing-school holden at the Tun,
  it was indeed 'no new cotillon fresh from France.' No, they kickit and
  jumpit with mettle extraordinary, and whiskit, and friskit, and toed
  it and go'd it, and twirl'd it, and whirl'd it, and stamped it, and
  sweated it, tattooing the floor like mad.[2] The difference between
  our country dances and these Scottish figures is about the same as
  leisurely stirring a cup o' Tea and beating up a batter-pudding. I
  was extremely gratified to think that, if I had pleasures they knew
  nothing of, they had also some into which I could not possibly enter.
  I hope I shall not return without having got the Highland fling. There
  was as fine a row of boys and girls as you ever saw; some beautiful
  faces, and one exquisite mouth. I never felt so near the glory of
  Patriotism, the glory of making by any means a country happier. This
  is what I like better than scenery.

From Ireby the friends walked by way of Wigton to Carlisle, arriving
there on the last day of June. From Carlisle they took coach to
Dumfries, having heard that the intervening country was not interesting:
neither did Keats much admire what he saw of it. Besides the familiar
beauties of the home counties of England, two ideals of landscape had
haunted and allured his imagination almost equally, that of the classic
south, harmonious and sunned and gay, and that of the shadowed, romantic
and adventurous north; and the Scottish border, with its bleak and
moorish rain-swept distances, its 'huddle of cold old grey hills' (the
phrase is Stevenson's) struck him somehow as answering to neither. 'I
know not how it is, the clouds, the sky, the houses, all seem
anti-Grecian and anti-Charlemagnish.'

So writes Keats from Dumfries, where they visited the tomb of Burns and
the ruins of Lincluden College, and where Keats expressed his sense of
foreignness and dreamlike discomfort in a sonnet interesting as the
record of a mood but of small merit poetically. Brown also, a Scotsman
from the outer Hebrides, as he believed, by descent, but by habit and
education purely English, felt himself at first an alien in the Scottish
Lowlands. On this stage of the walk they were both unpleasurably struck
by the laughterless gravity and cold greetings of the people, ('more
serious and solidly inanimated than necessary' Brown calls them) and by
the lack of anything like the English picturesque and gardened snugness
in villages and houses: Brown also by the barefoot habit of the girls
and women, but this Keats liked, expatiating to his friend on the beauty
of a lassie's natural uncramped foot and its colour against the grass.

From Dumfries they started on July 2 south-westward for Galloway, a
region not overmuch frequented even now, and then hardly at all, by
tourists: even Wordsworth on his several Scottish trips passed it by
unexplored. Our travellers broke the journey first at Dalbeattie: thence
on to Kirkcudbright, with a long morning pause for breakfast and
letter-writing by the wayside near Auchencairn. Approaching the
Kirkcudbrightshire coast, with its scenery at once wild and soft, its
embosomed inlets and rocky tufted headlands, its high craggy moors
towering inland, and its backward views over the glimmering Solway to
the Cumberland fells or the hazier hills of Man, they began to enjoy
themselves to the full. Brown bethought him that this was Guy
Mannering's country, and fell talking to Keats about Meg Merrilies.
Keats, who according to the fashion of his circle was no enthusiast for
Scott's poetry, and of the Waverley novels, at this time guessed but not
known to be Scott's, had read _The Antiquary_ (to which he whimsically
preferred Smollett's _Humphrey Clinker_) but not _Guy Mannering_, was
much struck by what he heard.

  I enjoyed the recollection of the events [writes Brown] as I described
  them in their own scenes. There was a little spot, close to our
  pathway, where, without a shadow of doubt, old Meg Merrilies had often
  boiled her kettle, and, haply, cooked a chicken. It was among
  fragments of rock, and brambles, and broom, and most tastefully
  ornamented with a profusion of honeysuckle, wild roses, and fox-glove,
  all in the very blush and fullness of blossom. While finishing
  breakfast, and both employed in writing, I could not avoid noticing
  that Keats's letter was not running in regular prose. He told me he
  was writing to his little sister, and giving a ballad on old Meg for
  her amusement. Though he called it too much a trifle to be copied, I
  soon inserted it in my journal. It struck me as a good description of
  that mystic link between mortality and the weird sisters; and, at the
  same time, in appropriate language to the person addressed.

    Old Meg she was a Gipsy,
      And liv'd upon the Moors:
    Her bed it was the brown heath turf
      And her house was out of doors.

    Her apples were swart blackberries,
      Her currants pods o' broom;
    Her wine was dew of the wild white rose,
      Her book a churchyard tomb.

    Her Brothers were the craggy hills,
      Her Sisters larchen trees--
    Alone with her great family
      She liv'd as she did please.

    No breakfast had she many a morn,
      No dinner many a noon,
    And 'stead of supper she would stare
      Full hard against the Moon.

    But every morn of woodbine fresh
      She made her garlanding,
    And every night the dark glen Yew
      She wove, and she would sing.

    And with her fingers old and brown
      She plaited Mats o' Rushes,
    And gave them to the Cottagers
      She met among the Bushes.

    Old Meg was brave as Margaret Queen
      And tall as Amazon:
    An old red blanket cloak she wore;
      A chip hat had she on.
    God rest her aged bones somewhere--
      She died full long agone!

Keats had in this 'trifle,' using the ballad form for the first time,
handled it with faultless tact, and though leaving out the tragic
features of Scott's creation, had been able to evoke of his own an
instantaneous vision of her in vitally conceived spiritual relation with
her surroundings.[3] He copied the piece out in letters written in
pauses of their walk both to his young sister and to his brother Tom.
The letter to Fanny Keats is full of fun and nonsense, with a touch or
two which shows that he was fully sensitive to the charm of the
Galloway coast scenery. 'Since I scribbled the Meg Merrilies song we
have walked through a beautiful country to Kirkcudbright--at which place
I will write you a song about myself.' Then follows the set of gay
doggrel stanzas telling of various escapades of himself as a child and
since,--'There was a naughty boy;' and then the excuse for them,--'My
dear Fanny, I am ashamed of writing you such stuff, nor would I if it
were not for being tired after my day's walking, and ready to tumble
into bed so fatigued that when I am in bed you might sew my nose to my
great toe and trundle me round the town, like a Hoop, without waking
me.' It was his way on his tour, and indeed always, thus to keep by him
the letters he was writing and add scraps to them as the fancy took him.
The systematic Brown, on the other hand, wrote regularly and uniformly
in the evenings. 'He affronts my indolence and luxury,' says Keats, 'by
pulling out of his knapsack, first his paper; secondly his pens; and
last, his ink. Now I would not care, if he would change a little. I say
now, why not take out his pens first sometimes? But I might as well tell
a hen to hold up her head before she drinks, instead of afterwards.'

From Kirkcudbright they walked on July 5,--taking the beautiful coast
road from Gatehouse of Fleet and passing where Cairnsmore heaves a huge
heathered shoulder above the fertile farmlands of the Cree valley,--as
far as Newton Stewart: thence across the low-rolling Wigtownshire
country by Glenluce to Stranraer and Portpatrick. Here they took the
packet for Donaghadee on the opposite coast of Ireland, with the
intention of seeing the Giant's Causeway, but finding the distances and
expense much exceed their calculation, contented themselves with a walk
to Belfast, and crossed back again to Portpatrick on the third day. In a
letter to his brother Tom written during and immediately after this
excursion, Keats has some striking passages of human observation and
reflection. The change of spirit between one generation and another is
forcibly brought home to us when we think of Johnson, setting forth on
his Scottish tour forty-five years earlier with the study of men,
manners and social conditions in his mind as the one aim worthy of a
serious traveller, (he had spoken scoffingly, not long before, of the
'prodigious noble wild prospects' which Scotland, he understood, shared
with Lapland), yet forced now and again by the power of scenery to
break, as it were half ashamedly, into stiff but striking phrases of
descriptive admiration; and when now we find Keats, carried northward by
the romantic passion and fashion of a later day for nature and scenery,
compelled in his turn by his innate human instincts to forget the
landscape and observe and speculate upon problems of society and
economics and racial character:--

  These Kirk-men have done Scotland good. They have made men, women; old
  men, young men; old women, young women; boys, girls; and all infants
  careful; so that they are formed into regular Phalanges of savers and
  gainers. Such a thrifty army cannot fail to enrich their Country, and
  give it a greater appearance of comfort than that of their poor rash
  neighbourhood [meaning Ireland]. These Kirk-men have done Scotland
  harm; they have banished puns, and laughing, and kissing, etc.,
  (except in cases where the very danger and crime must make it very
  gustful). I shall make a full stop at kissing, ... and go on to remind
  you of the fate of Burns poor, unfortunate fellow! his disposition was
  Southern! How sad it is when a luxurious imagination is obliged, in
  self-defence, to deaden its delicacy in vulgarity and in things
  attainable, that it may not have leisure to go mad after things that
  are not!... I have not sufficient reasoning faculty to settle the
  doctrine of thrift, as it is consistent with the dignity of human
  Society--with the happiness of Cottagers. All I can do is by plump
  contrasts; were the fingers made to squeeze a guinea or a white
  hand?--were the lips made to hold a pen or a kiss? and yet in Cities
  man is shut out from his fellows if he is poor--the cottager must be
  very dirty, and very wretched, if she be not thrifty--the present
  state of society demands this, and this convinces me that the world is
  very young, and in a very ignorant state. We live in a barbarous
  age--I would sooner be a wild deer, than a girl under the dominion of
  the Kirk; and I would sooner be a wild hog, than be the occasion of a
  poor Creature's penance before those execrable elders.

Here is an impression received in Ireland, followed by a promise, which
was fulfilled a few days later with remarkable shrewdness and insight,
of further considerations on the contrasts between the Irish character
and the Scottish:--

  On our return from Belfast we met a sedan--the Duchess of Dunghill. It
  was no laughing matter though. Imagine the worst dog-kennel you ever
  saw, placed upon two poles from a mouldy fencing. In such a wretched
  thing sat a squalid old woman, squat like an ape half-starved from a
  scarcity of biscuit in its passage from Madagascar to the Cape, with a
  pipe in her mouth and looking out with a round-eyed, skinny-lidded
  inanity, with a sort of horizontal idiotic movement of her head: squat
  and lean she sat, and puffed out the smoke, while two ragged, tattered
  girls carried her along. What a thing would be a history of her life
  and sensations; I shall endeavour when I have thought a little more,
  to give you my idea of the difference between the Scotch and Irish.

From Stranraer the friends made straight for Burns's country, walking
along the coast by Ballantrae, Girvan, Kirkoswald and Maybole (the same
walk that Stevenson took the reverse way in the winter of 1876) to Ayr.
Brown grows especially lyrical, and Keats more enthusiastic than usual,
over the beauty of the first day's walk from Stranraer by Cairn Ryan and
Glen App, with Ailsa Craig suddenly looming up through showers after
they topped the pass:--

  When we left Cairn [writes Keats] our Road lay half way up the sides
  of a green mountainous shore, full of clefts of verdure and eternally
  varying--sometimes up sometimes down, and over little Bridges going
  across green chasms of moss, rock and trees--winding about everywhere.
  After two or three Miles of this we turned suddenly into a magnificent
  glen finely wooded in Parts--seven Miles long--with a Mountain stream
  winding down the Midst--full of cottages in the most happy
  situations--the sides of the Hills covered with sheep--the effect of
  cattle lowing I never had so finely. At the end we had a gradual
  ascent and got among the tops of the Mountains whence in a little time
  I descried in the Sea Ailsa Rock 940 feet high--it was 15 Miles
  distant and seemed close upon us. The effect of Ailsa with the
  peculiar perspective of the Sea in connection with the ground we stood
  on, and the misty rain then falling gave me a complete Idea of a
  deluge. Ailsa struck me very suddenly--really I was a little alarmed.

Less vivid than the above is the invocatory sonnet, apparently showing
acquaintance with the geological theory of volcanic upheaval, which
Keats was presently moved to address _To Ailsa Rock_. Coming down into
Ballantrae in blustering weather, the friends met a country wedding
party on horseback, and Keats tried a song about it in the Burns
dialect, for Brown to palm off on Dilke as an original: 'but it won't
do,' he rightly decides. From Maybole he writes to Reynolds with pleased
anticipation of the visit to be paid the next day to Burns's cottage.
'One of the pleasantest means of annulling self is approaching such a
shrine as the cottage of Burns--we need not think of his misery--that is
all gone--bad luck to it--I shall look upon it all with unmixed
pleasure, as I do upon my Stratford-on-Avon day with Bailey.' On the
walk from Maybole to Ayr Keats has almost the only phrase which escapes
him during the whole tour to indicate a sense of special inspiring power
in mountain scenery for a poet:--'The approach to it [Ayr] is extremely
fine--quite outwent my expectations--richly meadowed, wooded, heathed,
and rivuleted--with a Grand Sea view terminated by the black mountains
of the Isle of Arran. As soon as I saw them so nearly I said to myself,
"How is it they did not beckon Burns to some grand attempt at an Epic."'
Nearing Kirk Alloway, Keats had been delighted to find the first home of
Burns in a landscape so charming. 'I endeavoured to drink in the
Prospect, that I might spin it out to you, as the Silkworm makes silk
from Mulberry leaves--I cannot recollect it.' But his anticipations were
deceived, the whole scene disenchanted, and thoughts of Burns's misery
forced on him in his own despite, by the presence and chatter of the man
in charge of the poet's birthplace:--

  The Man at the Cottage was a great Bore with his Anecdotes--I hate the
  rascal--his life consists in fuz, fuzzy, fuzziest. He drinks glasses
  five for the Quarter and twelve for the hour--he is a mahogany-faced
  old Jackass who knew Burns. He ought to have been kicked for having
  spoken to him. He calls himself 'a curious old Bitch'--but he is a
  flat old dog--I should like to employ Caliph Vathek to kick him. O the
  flummery of a birthplace! Cant! cant! cant! It is enough to give a
  spirit the guts-ache. Many a true word, they say, is spoken in
  jest--this may be because his gab hindered my sublimity: the flat dog
  made me write a flat sonnet. My dear Reynolds--I cannot write about
  scenery and visitings--Fancy is indeed less than a present palpable
  reality, but it is greater than remembrance--you would lift your eyes
  from _Homer_ only to see close before you the real Isle of
  Tenedos--you would rather read _Homer_ afterwards than remember
  yourself. One song of Burns's is of more worth to you than all I could
  think for a whole year in his native country. His Misery is a dead
  weight upon the nimbleness of one's quill--I tried to forget it--to
  drink Toddy without any Care--to write a merry sonnet--it won't do--he
  talked with Bitches--he drank with blackguards, he was miserable. We
  can see horribly clear, in the works of such a Man his whole life, as
  if we were God's spies.[4] What were his addresses to Jean in the
  latter part of his life?

A little farther back Keats had written, 'my head is sometimes in such a
whirl in considering the million likings and antipathies of our Moments
that I can get into no settled strain in my Letters.' But their
straggling, careless tissue is threaded with such strands of genius and
fresh human wisdom that one often wonders whether they are not legacies
of this rare young spirit equally precious with the poems themselves.
Certainly their prose is better than most of the verse which he had
strength or leisure to write during this Scottish tour. As the two
friends tramped among the Highland mountains some days later Keats
composed with considerable pains (as Brown particularly mentions) the
lines beginning 'There is a charm in footing slow across a silent
plain,' intended to express the temper in which his pilgrimage through
and beyond the Burns country had been made. They are written in the
long iambic fourteeners of Chapman's _Iliad_, a metre not touched by
Keats elsewhere, and perhaps chosen to convey a sense of the sustained
continuous trudge of his wayfaring. They are very interesting as an
attempt to capture and fix in words certain singular, fluctuating
intensities of the poet's mood--the pressure of a great and tragic
memory absorbing his whole consciousness and deadening all sense of
outward things as he nears the place of pilgrimage--and afterwards his
momentary panic lest the spell of mighty scenery and associations may be
too overpowering and drag his soul adrift from its moorings of every-day
habit and affection--from the ties of 'the sweet and bitter world'--'of
Brother's eyes, of Sister's brow.' In some of the lines expressing these
obscure disturbances of the soul there is a deep smouldering fire, but
hardly ever that touch of absolute felicity which is the note of Keats's
work when he is quite himself. The best, technically speaking, are those
which tell of the pilgrim's absorbed mood of expectant approach to his
goal:--

  Light heather-bells may tremble then but they are far away;
  Wood-lark may sing from sandy fern,--the Sun may hear his lay;
  Runnels may kiss the grass on shelves and shallows clear,
  But their low voices are not heard, though come on travels drear;
  Blood-red the Sun may set behind black mountain peaks;
  Blue tides may sluice and drench their time in caves and weedy creeks;
  Eagles may seem to sleep wing-wide upon the air;
  Ring-doves may fly convuls'd across to some high-cedar'd lair;
  But the forgotten eye is still fast lidded to the ground,
  As Palmer's, that with weariness, mid-desert shrine hath found.
  At such a time the soul's a child, in childhood is the brain;
  Forgotten is the worldly heart--alone, it beats in vain.--[5]

Keats makes it clear that he did not write these lines until some days
after he had left Burns's country and was well on into the heart of the
Highlands, and we get what reads like the prose of some of them in a
letter written to Tom on the last stage of his walk before reaching
Oban. Meantime the friends had passed through Glasgow, of which they had
nothing to say except that they were taken, not for the first time, for
pedlars by reason of their knapsacks, and Brown in particular for a
spectacle-seller by reason of his glasses, and that the whole population
seemed to have turned out to stare at them. A drunken man in the street,
accosting Keats with true Glaswegian lack of ceremony, vowed he had seen
all kinds of foreigners but never the like o' _him_: a remark perhaps
not to be wondered at when we recall Mrs Dilke's description of Keats's
appearance when he came home (see the end of this chapter) and Brown's
account of his own weird toggery as follows:--'a thick stick in my hand,
the knapsack on my back, "with spectacles on nose," a white hat, a
tartan coat and trousers and a Highland plaid thrown over my shoulders.'
From Glasgow they walked by Dumbarton through the Loch Lomond country,
round the head of Loch Fyne to Inverary, thence down the side and round
the south-west end of Loch Awe and so past the head of Loch Craignish to
the coast. At his approach to the lower end of Loch Lomond Keats had
thought the scene 'precious good;' but his sense of romance was
disturbed by finding it so frequented. 'Steamboats on Loch Lomond and
Barouches on its sides take a little from the pleasure of such romantic
chaps as Brown and I.' If the scene were to be peopled he would prefer
that it were by another kind of denizen. 'The Evening was beautiful
nothing could surpass our fortune in the weather--yet was I worldly
enough to wish for a fleet of chivalry Barges with Trumpets and Banners
just to die away before me into that blue place among the
mountains'--and here follows a little sketch of the narrow upper end of
the lake from near Tarbet, just to show where the blue place was. At
Inverary Keats has a word about the woods which reminds one of
Coleridge's _Kubla Khan_--'the woods seem old enough to remember two or
three changes in the Crags above them'--and then goes on to tell how he
has been amused and exasperated by a performance of _The Stranger_ to an
accompaniment of bagpipe music. Bathing in Loch Fyne the next morning,
he got horribly bitten by gad-flies, and vented his smart in a set of
doggrel rhymes. Of all these matters he gossips gaily for the
entertainment of the invalid Tom. Turning on the same day to write to
Benjamin Bailey, the most serious-minded of his friends, he proceeds in
a strain of considerate self-knowledge to confess and define some of the
morbid elements in his own nature. That Bailey may be warned against
taking any future complainings of his too seriously, 'I carry all
matters,' he says, 'to an extreme--so that when I have any little
vexation, it grows in five minutes into a theme for Sophocles.' And then
by way of accounting for his having failed of late to see much of the
Reynolds sisters in Little Britain, he lays bare his reasons for
thinking himself unfit for ordinary society and especially for the
society of women:--

  I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women--at this moment
  I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot. Is it because they
  fall so far beneath my boyish imagination? When I was a schoolboy I
  thought a fair woman a pure Goddess, my mind was a soft nest in which
  some one of them slept, though she knew it not. I have no right to
  expect more than their reality--I thought them ethereal above men--I
  find them perhaps equal--great by comparison is very small. Insult may
  be inflicted in more ways than by word or action. One who is tender of
  being insulted does not like to think an insult against another. I do
  not like to think insults in a lady's company--I commit a crime with
  her which absence would not have known.... I must absolutely get over
  this--but how? the only way is to find the root of the evil, and so
  cure it 'with backward mutters of dissevering power'--that is a
  difficult thing; for an obstinate Prejudice can seldom be produced but
  from a gordian complication of feelings, which must take time to
  unravel, and care to keep unravelled.

And then, as to his present doings and impressions:--

  I should not have consented to myself these four months tramping in
  the highlands, but that I thought it would give me more experience,
  rub off more prejudice, use me to more hardships, identify finer
  scenes, load me with grander mountains, and strengthen more my reach
  in Poetry, than would stopping at home among books, even though I
  should reach _Homer_. By this time I am comparatively a Mountaineer. I
  have been among wilds and mountains too much to break out much about
  their grandeur. I have fed upon oat-cake--not long enough to be very
  much attached to it.--The first mountains I saw, though not so large
  as some I have since seen, weighed very solemnly upon me. The effect
  is wearing away--yet I like them mainly.

The word 'identify' in the above is noticeable, as seeming to imply that
the fruit of his travel was not discovery, but only the recognition of
scenes already fully preconceived in his imagination. Resuming his
letter to Tom at a later stage, he tells of things that have impressed
him: how in Glencroe[6] they had been pleased with the noise of
shepherds' sheep and dogs in the misty heights close above them, but
could see none of them for some time, till two came in sight 'creeping
among the crags like Emmets,' yet their voices plainly audible: how
solemn was the first sight of Loch Awe as they approached it 'along a
complete mountain road' (that is by way of Glen Aray) 'where if one
listened there was not a sound but that of mountain streams'; how they
tramped twenty miles by the loch side and how the next day they had
reached the coast within view of Long Island (that is Luing; the spot
was probably Kilmelfort). It is at this point we get the prose of some
of the lines quoted above from the verses expressing the temper of his
pilgrimage:--

  Our walk was of this description--the near Hills were not very lofty
  but many of them steep, beautifully wooded--the distant Mountains in
  the Hebrides very grand, the Saltwater Lakes coming up between Crags
  and Islands full tide and scarcely ruffled--sometimes appearing as one
  large Lake sometimes as three distinct ones in different directions.
  At one point we saw afar off a rocky opening into the main sea.--We
  have also seen an Eagle or two. They move about without the least
  motion of Wings when in an indolent fit.

At the same point occur for the first time complaints, slight at first,
of fatigue and discomfort. At the beginning of his tour Keats had
written to his sister of its effects upon his appetite: 'I get so hungry
a ham goes but a very little way and fowls are like larks to me.... I
can eat a bull's head as easily as I used to do bull's eyes.' Some days
later he writes that he is getting used to it, and doing his twenty
miles or more a day without inconvenience. But now, in the remoter parts
of the Highlands, the hard accommodation and monotonous diet and rough
journeys and frequent drenchings begin to tell upon both him and
Brown:--

  Last night poor Brown with his feet blistered and scarcely able to
  walk, after a trudge of 20 Miles down the side of Loch Awe had no
  supper but Eggs and oat Cake--we have lost the sight of white bread
  entirely--Now we had eaten nothing but eggs all day--about 10 a piece
  and they had become sickening--To-day we have fared rather better--but
  no oat Cake wanting--we had a small chicken and even a good bottle of
  Port but altogether the fare is too coarse--I feel it a little.

Our travellers seem to have felt the hardships of the Highlands more
than either Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy when they visited the same
scenes just fifteen years earlier, or Lockhart and his brother in their
expedition, only three years before, to the loneliest wilds of Lochaber.
But then the Wordsworth party only walked when they wished, and drove
much of the way in their ramshackle jaunting-car; and the Lockharts,
being fishermen, had their rods, and had besides brought portable soup
with them and a horse to carry their kit. Lockhart's account of his
experience is in curious contrast with those of Keats and Brown:--

  We had a horse with us for the convenience of carrying baggage--but
  contemning the paths of civilized man, we dared the deepest glens in
  search of trout. There is something abundantly delightful in the
  warmheartedness of the Highland people. Bating the article of
  inquisitiveness, they are as polite as courtiers. The moment we
  entered a cottage the wife began to bake her cakes--and having
  portable soup with us, our fare was really excellent. What think you
  of porritch and cream for breakfast? trout, pike, and herrings for
  dinner, and right peat-reek whisky?

Arrived at Oban by way of the Melfort pass and Glen Euchar, the friends
undertook one journey in especial which proved too much for Keats's
strength. Finding the regular tourist route by water to Staffa and Iona
too expensive for their frugal scheme of travel, they were persuaded to
take the ferry to the isle of Kerrera and thence on to the hither shore
of Mull. Did Keats in crossing Kerrera hear of--he would scarcely have
travelled out of his way to visit--the ruins of the castle of Goylen on
its precipice above the sea, with its legend of the girl-child,
unaccountably puny as was thought, who turned out to be really the fairy
mistress of a gentleman of Ireland, and being detected as such threw
herself headlong from the window into the waves? and was this scene with
its story in his mind when he wrote of forlorn fairy lands where castle
casements open on the foam of perilous seas?[7] From the landing place
in Mull they had to take a guide and traverse on foot the whole width of
the island to the extreme point of the Ross of Mull opposite Iona: a
wretched walk, as Keats calls it, of some thirty-seven miles, over
difficult ground and in the very roughest weather, broken by one night's
rest in a shepherd's hut at a spot he calls Dun an Cullen,--perhaps for
Derrynacullen. Having crossed the narrow channel to Iona and admired the
antiquities of that illustrious island (the epithet is Johnson's), they
chartered a fresh boat for the trip to Staffa and thence up Loch na
Keal, so landing on the return journey in the heart of Mull and
shortening their walk back across the island by more than half. By the
power of the past and its associations among the monastic ruins of Iona,
and of nature's architecture in building and scooping the basaltic
columns of Fingal's Cave, Keats shows himself naturally impressed. In
this instance, and once or twice afterwards, he exerts himself to write
a full and precise description for the benefit of his brother Tom. In
doing so he uses a phrase which indicates a running of his thoughts upon
his projected poem, _Hyperion_:--

  The finest thing is Fingal's cave--it is entirely a hollowing out of
  Basalt Pillars. Suppose now the Giants who rebelled against Jove had
  taken a whole Mass of black Columns and bound them together like
  bunches of matches--and then with immense Axes had made a cavern in
  the body of these Columns--of course the roof and floor must be
  composed of the broken ends of the Columns--such is Fingal's cave
  except that the Sea has done the work of excavations and is
  continually dashing there--so that we walk along the sides of the cave
  on the pillars which are left as if for convenient stairs--the roof is
  arched somewhat gothic-wise and the length of some of the entire
  side-pillars is 50 feet.... The colour of the columns is a sort of
  black with a lurking gloom of purple therein. For solemnity and
  grandeur it far surpasses the finest Cathedral.

More characteristically than this description, some verses he sends at
the same time tell how Fingal's cave and its profanation by the race of
tourists affected him: I mean those beginning 'Not Aladdin Magian,'
written in the seven-syllable metre which he handled almost as well as
his sixteenth and seventeenth century masters, from Fletcher and Ben
Jonson to the youthful Milton. Avoiding word-painting and description,
like the born poet he is, he begins by calling up for comparison visions
of other fanes or palaces of enchantment, and then, bethinking himself
of Milton's cry to Lycidas,

          where'er thy bones are hurl'd,
  Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides--

he imagines that lost one to have been found by the divinity of Ocean
and put by him in charge of this cathedral of his building. In his
priestly character Lycidas tells his latter-day visitant of the religion
of the place, complains of the violation of its solitude, and then dives
suddenly from view. In the six lines which tell of the scene's
profanation the style sinks with the theme into flat triviality:--

  So for ever will I leave
  Such a taint and soon unweave
  All the magic of the place,
  Tis now free to stupid face,
  To cutters and to Fashion boats,
  To cravats and to Petticoats:--
  The great sea shall war it down,
  For its fame shall not be blown
  At each farthing Quadrille dance.
  So saying with a Spirit glance
  He dived--.

Keats evidently, and no wonder, did not like those six lines from 'Tis
now free' to 'dance': in transcripts by his friends they are dropped out
or inserted only in pencil: but he apparently did not see his way to
mend them, and Brown tells us he could never persuade him to finish or
resume the poem. In the broken close as he left it there is after all an
appropriate abruptness which may content us.

From the exertion and exposure which he underwent on his Scottish tour,
and especially in this Mull expedition, are to be traced the first
distinct and settled symptoms of failure in Keats's health, which by
reason of his muscular vigour had to his friends hitherto seemed so
robust, and of the development of his hereditary tendency to
consumption. In the same letter to his brother Tom which contains the
transcript of the Fingal poem he speaks of a 'slight sore
throat,'--Brown calls it a violent cold,--which compelled him to rest
for a day or two at Oban. Thence they pushed on in broken weather by
Ballachulish and the shore of Loch Linnhe to Fort William, and from
thence groped and struggled up Ben Nevis, a toilsome climb at best, in a
dissolving mist. Once again Keats makes an exceptional endeavour to
realise the scene in words for his brother's benefit, telling of the
continual shifting and opening and closing and re-opening of the cloud
veils about them; and to clench his effect adds, 'There is not a more
fickle thing than the top of a Mountain--what would a Lady give to
change her headdress as often and with as little trouble?' Seated, so
Brown tells us, almost on the edge of a precipice of fifteen hundred
feet drop, Keats composed a sonnet, above his worst but much below his
best, turning the experience of the hour into a simple enough symbol of
his own mental state in face of the great mysteries of things:--

  Read me a lesson, Muse, and speak it loud
    Upon the top of Nevis, blind in mist!
  I look into the chasms, and a shroud
    Vap'rous doth hide them,--just so much I wist
  Mankind do know of hell; I look o'erhead,
    And there is sullen mist,--even so much
  Mankind can tell of heaven; mist is spread
    Before the earth, beneath me,--even such,
  Even so vague is man's sight of himself!
    Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet,--
  Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf,
    I tread on them,--that all my eye doth meet
  Is mist and crag, not only on this height,
  But in the world of thought and mental might!

Hearing of a previous ascent by a Mrs Cameron, 'the fattest woman in all
Invernesshire,' he had the energy to compose also for Tom's amusement a
comic dialogue in verse between the mountain and the lady, much more in
Brown's vein than in his own. By the 6th of August the travellers had
reached Inverness, having tramped, as Brown calculates, six hundred and
forty-two miles since leaving Lancaster.

Keats's throat had for some time been getting worse: the ascent, and
especially the descent, of Ben Nevis had, as he confesses, shaken and
tried him: feverish symptoms set in, and the doctor whom he consulted at
Inverness thought his condition seriously threatening, and forbad him to
continue his tour. Accordingly he gave up the purpose with which he had
set out of footing it southward by a different route, seeing Edinburgh,
and on his way home visiting Bailey at his curacy in Cumberland, and
decided to take passage at once for London by the next packet from
Cromarty. Dilke had in the meantime felt compelled to write and recall
him on account of a sudden change for the worse in the condition of the
invalid Tom, so that his tour with Brown would have been cut short in
any case. On their way round the head of Beauly Firth to Cromarty the
friends did not miss the opportunity of visiting the ruins of Beauly
Abbey. The interior was then and for long afterwards used as a burial
place and receptacle for miscellaneous rubbish. Their attention being
drawn to a heap of skulls which they took, probably on the information
of some local guide, for skulls of ancient monks of the Abbey, they
jointly composed upon them a set of verses in Burns's favourite measure
(but without, this time, any attempt at his dialect). Unluckily Brown
wrote the lion's share of the piece and set the tone of the whole. To
the sixteen stanzas Keats contributed, as he afterwards informed
Woodhouse, only the first line-and-a-half of the first stanza, with
three of the later stanzas entire. As the piece has never been published
and is a new document in the history of the tour, it seems to call for
insertion here: but in view of its length and lack of quality (for it
has nowhere a touch of Keats's true magic) I choose rather to relegate
it to an appendix.

It was on the eighth or ninth of August that the smack for London put
out from Cromarty with Keats on board, and Brown, having bidden him
goodbye, was left to finish the tour alone--'much lamenting,' says he,
'the loss of his beloved companionship at my side.' Keats in some degree
picked up strength during a nine days' sea passage, the humours of which
he afterwards described pleasantly in a letter to his brother George.
But his throat trouble, the premonitory sign of worse, never really or
for any length of time left him afterwards. On the 18th of August he
arrived at Hampstead, and made his appearance among his friends the next
day, 'as brown and as shabby as you can imagine,' writes Mrs Dilke,
'scarcely any shoes left, his jacket all torn at the back, a fur cap, a
great plaid, and his knapsack. I cannot tell what he looked like.' When
he found himself seated, for the first time after his hardships, in a
comfortable stuffed chair, we are told how he expressed a comic
enjoyment of the sensation, quoting at himself the words in which Quince
the carpenter congratulates his gossip the weaver on his metamorphosis.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] This account was published in _The Plymouth and Devonport Weekly
    Journal_, beginning October 1, 1840, but was unluckily stopped after
    the fourth number and carries us no farther than to Ballantrae on the
    Ayrshire coast. I believe this is the first time that it has been
    used or quoted.

  [2] Does the reader remember how in a similar scene from the other
    side of the Solway, in Scott's _Redgauntlet_, Dame Martin, leading
    the dance, 'frisked like a kid, snapped her fingers like castanets,
    whooped like a Bacchanal, and bounded from the floor like a tennis
    ball'?

  [3] It is interesting to note that the present poet laureate has
    found something in this piece entitling it to a place in his severely
    sifted anthology, _The Spirit of Man_.

  [4] The words are King Lear's (act v, sc. iii).

  [5] This metre is essentially the same as the 'common' measure, eight
    and six, of the hymn-books, only printed out in single lines to be
    spoken without--or with only very slight--pause. At the point quoted
    Keats varies it, whether carelessly or on purpose, and the first
    lines of three successive couplets, beginning from 'Runnels,' etc.,
    are not in fourteeners but in twelves or Alexandrines (='short
    measure,' six and six, printed out). A similar variation is frequent
    in early examples of the metre.

  [6] Printed in error 'Glenside' in all the editions: but the MS. is
    quite clear, and even were it not so topography would require
    Glencroe.

  [7] See John Campbell of Islay, _Popular Tales of the West Highlands_
    (1860), vol. ii, p. 52. I owe the suggestion and the reference to my
    friend Prof. W. P. Ker. Personally I have always associated the magic
    casements with the Enchanted Castle of Claude's picture representing
    a very different scene. But the poet's mind is a crucible made for
    extracting from ingredients no matter how heterogeneous the
    quintessence, the elixir, which it needs.



CHAPTER X

SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1818: _BLACKWOOD_ AND THE _QUARTERLY_

  _Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine_--Partisan excesses--Wild
  inconsistency--Virulences of first number--The 'Z' papers and Leigh
  Hunt--Blackwood and Walter Scott--_The Chaldee Manuscript_--Scott's
  warning to Lockhart--Lockhart and Keats--'Z' on _Endymion_--A lesson
  to critics--Marks of Lockhart's hand--The Quarterly on
  _Endymion_--Indignant friends: Bailey--Reynolds--Woodhouse and
  Taylor--Keats's composure under attack--Subsequent effects--Tom Keats
  _in extremis_--Three months by the sick-bed--First Journal-letter to
  America--Dread of love and marriage--Death of Tom Keats.


On the first of September, within a fortnight of Keats's return from the
North, appeared the threatened attack on him in Blackwood's _Edinburgh
Magazine_. Much as has been said and written on the history and effect
of the 'Cockney School' articles, my task requires that the story should
be retold, as accurately and fairly as may be, in the light of our
present knowledge.

The Whig party in politics and letters had held full ascendency for half
a generation in the periodical literature of Scotland by means of the
_Edinburgh Review_, published by Archibald Constable and edited at this
time by Jeffrey. The Tory rival, the _Quarterly_, was owned and
published also by a Scotsman, but a Scotsman migrated to London, John
Murray. Early in 1817 William Blackwood, an able Tory bookseller in
Edinburgh, projected a new monthly review which should be a thorn in the
side of his astute and ambitious trade rival, Constable, and at the same
time should hold up the party flag against the blue and yellow Whig
colours in the North, and show a livelier and lustier fighting temper
than the Quarterly. The first number appeared in March under the title
of _The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine_. The first editors were two
insignificant men who proved neither competent nor loyal, and flat
failure threatening the enterprise, Blackwood after six months got rid
of the editors and determined to make a fresh start. He added his own
name to the title of the magazine and called to his aid two brilliant
young men who had been occasional contributors, John Wilson and John
Gibson Lockhart, both sound Oxford scholars and Lockhart moreover a
well-read modern linguist, both penmen of extraordinary facility and
power of work, both at this period of their lives given, in a spirit
partly of furious partisanship partly of reckless frolic, to a degree of
licence in controversy and satire inconceivable to-day. Wilson, by birth
the son of a rich Glasgow manufacturer but now reduced in fortune, was
in person a magnificent, florid, blue-eyed athlete of thirty, and in
literature the bully and Berserker of the pair. Lockhart, the scion of
an ancient Lanarkshire house, a dark, proud, handsome and graceful youth
of twenty-three, pensive and sardonically reserved, had a deadly gift of
satire and caricature and a lust for exercising it which was for a time
uncontrollable like a disease. Wilson had lived on Windermere in the
intimacy of Wordsworth and his circle, and already made a certain mark
in literature with his poem _The Isle of Palms_. Lockhart had made a few
firm friends at Oxford and after his degree had frequented the Goethe
circle at Weimar, but was otherwise without social or literary
experience. Blackwood was the eager employer and unflinching backer of
both. The trio were determined to push the magazine into notoriety by
fair means or foul. Its management was informally divided between them,
so that no one person could be held responsible. Of Wilson and Lockhart,
each was at one time supposed to be editor, but neither ever admitted as
much or received separate payment for editorial work. They were really
chief contributors and trusted and insistent chief advisers, but
Blackwood never let go his own control, and took upon himself, now with
effrontery, now with evasion, occasionally with compromise made and
satisfaction given, all the risks and rancours which the threefold
management chose to incur.

Wilson's obstreperousness, even when he had in some degree sobered down
as a university professor, was at all times irresponsible and
irrepressible, but for some of the excesses of those days he expressed
regret and tried to make atonement; while Lockhart, the vitriol
gradually working out of his nature in the sunshine of domestic
happiness and of Scott's genial and paternal influence, sincerely
repented them when it was too late. But they lasted long enough to
furnish one of the most deplorable chapters in our literary history. The
fury of political party spirit, infesting the whole field of letters,
accounts for, without excusing much. It was a rough unscrupulous time,
the literary as well as the political atmosphere thick, as we have seen,
with the mud and stones of controversy, flung often very much at random.
The _Quarterly_, as conducted by the acrid and deformed pedant Gifford,
had no mercy for opponents: and one of the harshest of its contributors
was the virtuous Southey. On the other side the Edinburgh, under the
more urbane and temperate Jeffrey, could sneer spitefully at all times
and abuse savagely enough on occasion, especially when its contributor
was Hazlitt. If a notorious Edinburgh attack on Coleridge's _Christabel_
volume was really by Hazlitt, as Coleridge always believed and Hazlitt
never denied, he in that instance added unpardonable personal
ingratitude to a degree of critical blindness amazing in such a man.
Even Leigh Hunt, in private life one of the most amiable of hearts,
could in controversy on the liberal side be almost as good a damner (to
use Keats's phrase) as his ally, the same Hazlitt himself. But nowhere
else were such felon strokes dealt in pure wantonness of heart as in the
early numbers of Blackwood. The notorious first number opened with an
article on Coleridge's _Biographia Literaria_ even more furiously
insulting than the aforesaid Edinburgh article on _Christabel_
attributed to Hazlitt. But for Hazlitt Coleridge was in politics an
apostate not to be pardoned, while for the Blackwood group he was no
enemy but an ally. Why treat him thus unless it were merely for the
purpose of attracting a scandalized attention? More amazing even than
the virulence of Blackwood was its waywardness and inconsistency. Will
it be believed that less than three years later the same Coleridge was
being praised and solicited--and what is more, successfully
solicited--for contributions? Again, nothing is so much to the credit of
Wilson and Lockhart in those days as their admiration for Wordsworth.
The sins of their first number are half redeemed by the article in
Wordsworth's praise, a really fine, eloquent piece of work in Wilson's
boisterous but not undiscriminating manner of laudation. But not even
Wordsworth could long escape the random swash of Wilson's bludgeon, and
a very few years later his friends were astonished to read a ferocious
outbreak against him in one of the _Noctes_ by the same hand. In regard
even to the detested Hazlitt the magazine blew in some degree hot and
cold, printing through several numbers a series of respectful summaries,
supplied from London by Patmore, of his Surrey Institution lectures; in
another number a courteous enough estimate of his and Jeffrey's
comparative powers in criticism; and a little later taking him to task
on one page rudely, but not quite unjustly, for his capricious treatment
of Shakespeare's minor poems and on another page addressing to him an
insulting catechism full of the vilest personal imputations.

The only contemporary whose treatment by the Blackwood trio is truly
consistent was Leigh Hunt, and of him it was consistently blackguardly.
To return to the first number of the new series, three articles were
counted on to create an uproar. First, the aforesaid emptying of the
critical slop-pail on Coleridge. Second, the _Translation from an
ancient Chaldee Manuscript_, being a biting personal satire, in language
parodied from the Bible, on noted Edinburgh characters, including the
Blackwood group themselves, disguised under transparent nicknames that
stuck, Blackwood as Ebony, Wilson as the Leopard, Lockhart as the
Scorpion that delighteth to sting the faces of men. Third, the article
on the Cockney School of Poetry, numbered as the first of the series,
headed with a quotation from Cornelius Webb, and signed with the initial
'Z.' As a thing to hang gibes on, the quotation from the unlucky Webb is
aptly enough chosen:--

  Our talk shall be (a theme we never tire on)
  Of Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron,
  (Our England's Dante)--Wordsworth, Hunt, and Keats,
  The Muses' son of promise, and what feats
  He yet may do--

Nor are the gibes themselves quite unjustified so far as they touch
merely the underbred insipidities of Leigh Hunt's tea-party manner in
_Rimini_. But they are as outrageously absurd as they are gross and
libellous when they go on to assail both poem and author on the score of
immorality.

  The extreme moral depravity of the Cockney School is another thing
  which is for ever thrusting itself upon the public attention, and
  convincing every man of sense who looks into their productions, that
  they who sport such sentiments can never be great poets. How could any
  man of high original genius ever stoop publicly, at the present day,
  to dip his fingers in the least of those glittering and rancid
  obscenities which float on the surface of Mr Hunt's _Hippocrene_? His
  poetry is that of a man who has kept company with kept-mistresses. He
  talks indelicately like a tea-sipping milliner girl. Some excuse for
  him there might have been, had he been hurried away by imagination or
  passion. But with him indecency is a disease, as he speaks unclean
  things from perfect inanition. The very concubine of so impure a
  wretch as Leigh Hunt would be to be pitied, but alas! for the wife of
  such a husband! For him there is no charm in simple seduction; and he
  gloats over it only when accompanied with adultery and incest.

Such is the manner in which these censors set about showing their
superior breeding and scholarship. 'Z' was in most cases probably a
composite and not a single personality, but the respective shares of
Wilson and Lockhart can often be confidently enough disentangled by
those who know their styles.

The scandal created by the first number exceeded what its authors had
hoped or expected. All Edinburgh was in a turmoil about the _Chaldee
Manuscript_, the victims writhing, their enemies chuckling, law-suits
threatening right and left. In London the commotion was scarcely less.
The London agents for the sale of the Magazine protested strongly, and
Blackwood had to use some hard lying in order to pacify them. Murray,
who had a share in the magazine, soon began remonstrating against its
scurrilities, and on their continuance withdrew his capital. Leigh Hunt
in the _Examiner_ retorted upon 'Z' with natural indignation and a
peremptory demand for the disclosure of his name. The libellers hugged
their anonymity, and at first showed some slight movement of panic. In a
second edition of the first number the _Chaldee Manuscript_ was omitted
and the assault on Hunt made a little less gross and personal. For a
while Hunt vigorously threatened legal proceedings, but after some time
desisted, whether from lack of funds or doubt of a verdict or inability
to identify his assailant we do not know, and declared, and stuck to the
declaration, that he would take no farther notice. The attacks were soon
renewed more savagely than ever. The second of the 'Z' papers alone is
scholarly and relatively reasonable. Its phrase, 'the genteel comedy of
incest,' fitly enough labels _Rimini_ in contrast with the tragic
treatment of kindred themes by real masters, as Sophocles, Dante, Ford,
Alfieri, Schiller, even Byron in _Manfred_ and _Parisina_. The third
article, and two other attacks in the form of letters addressed directly
to Hunt with the same signature, are merely rabid and outrageous.
Correspondents having urged in protest that Hunt's domestic life was
blameless, the assailant says in effect, so much the greater his
offence for writing a profligate and demoralizing poem; and to this
preposterous charge against one of the mildest pieces of milk-and-water
sentimentality in all literature he returns (or they return) with
furious iteration.

The reasons for this special savagery against Hunt have never been made
fully clear. He and his circle used to think it was partly due to his
slighting treatment of Scott in the _Feast of the Poets_: nay, they even
idly imagined for a moment that Scott himself had been the
writer,--Scott, than whom no man was ever more magnanimously and
humorously indifferent to harsh criticism or less capable of lifting a
finger to resent it. But some of Scott's friends and idolaters in
Edinburgh were sensitive on his behalf as he never was on his own. Even
for the Blackwood assault on Coleridge one rumoured reason was that
Coleridge had rudely denounced a play, the _Bertram_ of Maturin, admired
and recommended to Drury Lane by Scott; and it is, as a matter of fact,
conceivable that a similar excess of loyalty may have had something to
do with the rancour of the 'Z' articles.

Looking back on the way in which the name of this great man got mixed up
in some minds with matters so far beneath him, it seems worth while to
set forth exactly what were his relations at this time to Blackwood and
the Blackwood group. About 1816-1817 the two rival publishers Blackwood
and Constable, were hot competitors for Scott's favour, and Constable
had lately scored a point in the game in the matter of the _Tales of my
Landlord_. It became in the eyes of Blackwood and his associates a vital
matter to secure some kind of countenance from Scott for their new
venture. They knew they would never attach him as a partisan or secure a
monopoly of his favours, and the authors of the _Chaldee Manuscript_
divined his attitude wittily and shrewdly when they represented him as
giving precisely the same answer to each of the two publishers who
courted him, thus. (The man in plain apparel is Blackwood and the
Jordan is the Tweed):--

  44. Then spake the man clothed in plain apparel to the great magician
  who dwelleth in the old fastness, hard by the river Jordan, which is
  by the Border. And the magician opened his mouth, and said, Lo! my
  heart wisheth thy good, and let the thing prosper which is in thy
  hands to do it.

  45. But thou seest that my hands are full of working and my labour is
  great. For lo I have to feed all the people of my land, and none
  knoweth whence his food cometh, but each man openeth his mouth, and my
  hand filleth it with pleasant things.

  46. Moreover, thine adversary also is of my familiars.

  47. The land is before thee, draw thou up thy hosts for the battle in
  the place of Princes, over against thine adversary, which hath his
  station near the mount of the Proclamation; quit ye as men, and let
  favour be shewn unto him which is most valiant.

  48. Yet be thou silent, peradventure will I help thee some little.

More shrewdly still, Blackwood bethought himself of the one and only way
of practically enlisting Scott, and that was by promising permanent work
on the magazine for his friend, tenant, and dependent, William Laidlaw,
whom he could never do enough to help. So it was arranged that Laidlaw
should regularly contribute a chronicle on agricultural and antiquarian
topics, and that Scott should touch it up and perhaps occasionally add a
paragraph or short article of his own. In point of fact the peccant
first number contains such an article, an entertaining enough little
skit 'On the alarming Increase of Depravity among Animals.' After the
number had appeared Scott wrote to Blackwood in tempered approval, but
saying that he must withdraw his support if satire like that of the
_Chaldee Manuscript_ was to continue. He had been pleased and tickled
with the prophetic picture of his own neutrality, but strongly
disapproved the sting and malice of much of the rest.

One cannot but wish he had put his foot down in like manner about the
'Cockney school' and other excesses: but home--that is
Edinburgh--affairs and personages interested him much more than those
of London. Lockhart he did not yet personally know. They first met eight
months later, in June 1818: the acquaintance ripened rapidly into firm
devotion on Lockhart's part--for this young satirist could love as
staunchly as he could stab unmercifully--a devotion requited with an
answering warmth of affection on the part of Scott. At an early stage of
their relations Scott, recognizing with regret that his young friend was
'as mischievous as a monkey,' got an offer for him of official work
which would have freed him of his ties to Blackwood. In like manner two
years later Scott threw himself heart and soul into the contest on
behalf of Wilson for the Edinburgh chair of moral philosophy, not merely
as the Tory candidate, but in the hope--never fully realized--that the
office would tame his combative extravagances as well as give scope for
his serious talents. And when the battle was won and Lockhart, now
Scott's son-in-law, crowed over it in a set of verses which Scott
thought too vindictive, he remonstrated in a strain of admirable grave
and affectionate wisdom:--

  I have hitherto avoided saying anything on this subject, though some
  little turn towards personal satire is, I think, the only drawback to
  your great and powerful talents, and I think I may have hinted as much
  to you. But I wished to see how this matter of Wilson's would turn,
  before making a clean breast upon this subject.... Now that he has
  triumphed I think it would be bad taste to cry out--'Strike up our
  drums--pursue the scattered stray.' Besides, the natural consequence
  of his situation must be his relinquishing his share in these
  compositions--at least, he will injure himself in the opinion of many
  friends, and expose himself to a continuation of galling and vexatious
  disputes to the embittering of his life, should he do otherwise. In
  that case I really hope you will pause before you undertake to be the
  Boaz of the Maga; I mean in the personal and satirical department,
  when the Jachin has seceded.

  Besides all other objections of personal enemies, personal quarrels,
  constant obloquy, and all uncharitableness, such an occupation will
  fritter away your talents, hurt your reputation both as a lawyer and a
  literary man, and waste away your time in what at best will be but a
  monthly wonder. What has been done in this department will be very
  well as a frolic of young men, but let it suffice.... Remember it is
  to the _personal_ satire I object, and to the horse-play of your
  raillery.... Revere yourself, my dear boy, and think you were born to
  do your country better service than in this species of warfare. I make
  no apology (I am sure you will require none) for speaking plainly what
  my anxious affection dictates.... I wish you to have the benefit of my
  experience without purchasing it; and be assured, that the
  consciousness of attaining complete superiority over your calumniators
  and enemies by the force of your general character, is worth a dozen
  of triumphs over them by the force of wit and raillery.

It took a longer time and harder lessons to cure Lockhart of the
scorpion habit and wean him from the seductions of the 'Mother of
Mischief,' as Scott in another place calls _Blackwood's Magazine_.
Meantime he had in the case of Keats done as much harm as he could. He
had not the excuse of entire ignorance. His intimate friend Christie
(afterwards principal in the John Scott duel) was working at the bar in
London and wrote to Lockhart in January 1818 that he had met Keats and
been favourably impressed by him. In reply Lockhart writes: 'What you
say of Keates (sic) is pleasing, and if you like to write a little
review of him, in admonition to leave his ways, etc., and in praise of
his natural genius, I shall be greatly obliged to you.' Later Benjamin
Bailey had the opportunity of speaking with Lockhart in Keats's behalf.
Bailey had by this time taken orders, and after publishing a friendly
notice of _Endymion_ in the _Oxford Herald_ for June, had left the
University and gone to settle in a curacy in Cumberland. In the course
of the summer he staid at Stirling, at the house of Bishop Gleig; whose
son, afterwards the well-known writer and chaplain-general to the
forces, was his friend, and whose daughter he soon afterwards married.
Here Bailey met Lockhart, and anxious to save Keats from the sort of
treatment to which Hunt had already been exposed, took the opportunity
of telling him in a friendly way Keats's circumstances and history,
explaining at the same time that his attachment to Leigh Hunt was
personal and not political; pleading that he should not be made an
object of party denunciation; and ending with the request that at any
rate what had been thus said in confidence should not be used to his
disadvantage. To which Lockhart replied that certainly it should not be
so used by _him_. Within three weeks the article appeared, making use to
all appearance, and to Bailey's great indignation, of the very facts he
had thus confidentially communicated.[1]

'That amiable but infatuated bardling, Mister John Keats,' had received
a certain amount of attention from 'Z' already, both in the quotation
from Cornelius Webb prefixed to the Cockney school articles, and in
allusion to Hunt's pair of sonnets on the intercoronation scene which he
had printed in his volume, _Foliage_, since the 'Z' series began. When
now Keats's own turn came, in the fourth article of the series, his
treatment was almost mild in comparison with that of his supposed
leader. 'This young man appears to have received from nature talents of
an excellent, perhaps even of a superior, order--talents which, devoted
to the purposes of any useful profession, must have rendered him a
respectable, if not an eminent citizen.' But, says the critic, he has
unfortunately fallen a victim to the _metromania_ of the hour; the
wavering apprentice has been confirmed in his desire to quit the
gallipots by his admiration for 'the most worthless and affected of all
the versifiers of our time.' 'Mr Hunt is a small poet, but he is a
clever man, Mr Keats is a still smaller poet, and he is only a boy of
pretty abilities which he has done everything in his power to spoil.'
And so on; and so on; not of course omitting to put a finger on real
weaknesses, as lack of scholarship, the use of Cockney rimes like
_higher_, _Thalia_; _ear_, _Cytherea_; _thorn_, _fawn_; deriding the
Boileau passage in _Sleep and Poetry_, and perceiving nothing but laxity
and nervelessness in the treatment of the metre. In the conceit of
academic talent and training, the critic shows himself open-eyed to all
the faults and stone-blind to all the beauty and genius and promise, and
ends with a vulgarity of supercilious patronage beside which all the
silly venial faults of taste in Leigh Hunt seem like good breeding
itself.

  And now, good-morrow to 'the Muses' son of Promise;' as for 'the feats
  he yet may do,' as we do not pretend to say like himself, 'Muse of my
  native land am I inspired,' we shall adhere to the safe old rule of
  _pauca verba_. We venture to make one small prophecy, that his
  bookseller will not a second time venture £50 upon any thing he can
  write. It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary
  than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John, back to 'plasters,
  pills, and ointment boxes,' etc. But, for Heaven's sake, young
  Sangrado, be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in
  your practice than you have been in your poetry.

There is a lesson in these things. I remember the late Mr Andrew Lang,
one of the most variously gifted and richly equipped critical minds of
our time, and under a surface vein of flippancy essentially
kind-hearted,--I remember Mr Andrew Lang, in a candid mood of
conversation, wondering whether in like circumstances he might not have
himself committed a like offence, and with no _Hyperion_ or _St Agnes'
Eve_ or _Odes_ yet written and only the 1817 volume and _Endymion_
before him, have dismissed Keats fastidiously and scoffingly. Who
knows?--and let us all take warning. But now-a-days the errors of
criticism are perhaps rather of an opposite kind, and any rashness and
rawness of undisciplined novelty is apt to find itself indulged and
fostered rather than repressed. What should at any time have saved
_Endymion_ from harsh judgment, if the quality of the poetry could not
save it, was the quality of the preface. How could either carelessness
or rancour not recognize, not augur the best from, its fine spirit of
manliness and modesty and self-knowledge?

The responsibility for the gallipots article, as for so many others in
the Blackwood of the time, may have been in some sort collective. But
that Lockhart had the chief share in it is certain. According to Dilke,
he in later life owned as much. To those who know his hand, he stands
confessed not only in the general gist and style but in particular
phrases. One is the use of Sangrado for doctor, a use which both Scott
and Lockhart had caught from _Gil Blas_.[2] Others are the allusions to
the _Métromanie_ of Piron and the _Endymion_ of Wieland, particularly
the latter. Wieland's _Oberon_, as we have seen, had made its mark in
England through Sotheby's translation, but no other member of the
Blackwood group is the least likely to have had any acquaintance with
his untranslated minor works except Lockhart, whose stay at Weimar had
given him a familiar knowledge of contemporary German literature. In the
_Mad Banker of Amsterdam_, a comic poem in the vein of Frere's
_Whistlecraft_ and Byron's _Beppo_, contributed by him at this time to
Blackwood under one of his Protean pseudonyms, as 'William Wastle Esq.,'
Lockhart sketches his own likeness as follows:--

  Then touched I off friend Lockhart (Gibson John),
    So fond of jabbering about Tieck and Schlegel,
  Klopstock and _Wieland_, Kant and Mendelssohn,
    All High Dutch quacks, like Spurzheim or Feinagle--
  Him the Chaldee yclept the Scorpion.--
    The claws, but not the pinions, of the eagle,
  Are Jack's, but though I do not mean to flatter,
  Undoubtedly he has strong powers of satire.

Bailey to the end of his life never forgave Lockhart for what he held to
be a base breach of faith after their conversation above mentioned, and
his indignation communicated itself to the Keats circle and afterwards,
as we shall see, to Keats himself. Mr Andrew Lang, in his excellent
_Life_ of Lockhart, making such defence as is candidly possible for his
hero's share in the Blackwood scandals, urges justly enough that the
only matter of fact divulged about Keats by 'Z' is that of his having
been apprenticed to a surgeon ('Z' prefers to say an apothecary) and
that thus much Lockhart could not well help knowing independently,
either from his own friend Christie or from Bailey's friend and future
brother-in-law Gleig, then living at Edinburgh and about to become one
of Blackwood's chief supporters. When in farther defence of 'Z's'
attacks on Hunt Mr Lang quotes from Keats's letters phrases in dispraise
of Hunt almost as strong as those used by 'Z' himself, he forgets the
world of difference there is between the confidential criticism, in a
passing mood or whim of impatience, of a friend by a friend to a friend
and the gross and re-iterated public defamation of a political and
literary opponent.

Lockhart in after life pleaded the rawness of youth, and also that in
the random and incoherent violences of the early years of Blackwood
there had been less of real and settled malice than in the _Quarterly
Review_ as at that time conducted. The plea may be partly admitted, but
to forgive him we need all the gratitude which is his due for his filial
devotion to and immortal biography of Scott, as well as all the
allowance to be made for a dangerous gift and bias of nature.

The Quarterly article on _Endymion_ followed in the last week of
September (in the number dated April,--such in those days was editorial
punctuality). It is now known to have been the work of John Wilson
Croker, a man of many sterling gifts and honourable loyalties, unjustly
blackened in the eyes of posterity by Macaulay's rancorous dislike and
Disraeli's masterly caricature, but in literature as in politics the
narrowest and stiffest of conservative partisans. Like his editor
Gifford, he was trained in strict allegiance to eighteenth century
tradition and the school of Pope. His brief review of _Endymion_ is that
of a man insensible to the higher charm of poetry, incapable of judging
it except by mechanical rule and precedent, and careless of the pain he
gives. He professes to have been unable to read beyond the first canto,
or to make head or tail of that, and what is worse, turns the frank
avowals of Keats's preface foolishly and unfairly against him. At the
same time, like Lockhart, he does not fail to point out and exaggerate
real weaknesses of Keats's early manner, and the following, from the
point of view of a critic who sees no salvation outside the closed
couplet, is not unreasonable criticism:--

  He seems to us to write a line at random, and then he follows not the
  thought excited by this line, but that suggested by the _rhyme_ with
  which it concludes. There is hardly a complete couplet inclosing a
  complete idea in the whole book. He wanders from one subject to
  another, from the association, not of ideas but of sounds, and the
  work is composed of hemistichs which, it is quite evident, have forced
  themselves upon the author by the mere force of the catchwords on
  which they turn.

In another of the established reviews, _The British Critic_, a third
censor came out with a notice even more contemptuous than those of
Blackwood and the Quarterly. For a moment Keats's pride winced, as any
man's might, under the personal insults of the critics, and dining in
the company of Hazlitt and Woodhouse with Mr Hessey, the publisher, he
seems to have declared in Woodhouse's hearing that he would write no
more. But he quickly recovered his balance, and in a letter to Dilke of
a few days later, speaking of Hazlitt's wrath against the Blackwood
scribes, is silent as to their treatment of himself. Meantime some of
his friends and more than one stranger were actively sympathetic and
indignant on his behalf. A just and vigorous expostulation appeared in
the _Morning Chronicle_ under the initials J.S.,--those in all
likelihood of John Scott, then editor of the _London Magazine_, not long
afterwards killed by Lockhart's friend Christie in a needless and
blundering duel arising out of these very Blackwood brawls. Bailey,
being in Edinburgh, had an interview with Blackwood and pleaded to be
allowed to contribute a reply to his magazine; and this being refused,
sought out Constable, who besides the _Edinburgh Review_ conducted the
monthly periodical which had been kind to Keats's first volume,[3] and
proposed to publish in it an attack on Blackwood and the 'Z' articles:
but Constable would not take the risk. Reynolds published in a
west-country paper, the _Alfred_, a warm rejoinder to the _Quarterly_
reviewer, containing a judicious criticism in brief of Keats's work,
with remarks very much to the point on the contrast between his and the
egotistical (meaning Wordsworth's) attitude to nature. This Leigh Hunt
reprinted with some introductory words in the _Examiner_, and later in
life regretted that he had not done more. But he could not have done
more to any purpose. He was not himself an enthusiastic admirer of
_Endymion_, had plainly said so to Keats and to his friends, and would
have got out of his depth if he had tried to appreciate the intensity
and complexity of symbolic and spiritual meaning which made that poem so
different from his own shallow, self-pleasing metrical versions of
classic or Italian tales. Reynolds's piece, which he re-printed, was
quite effective and to the point as far as it went; and moreover any
formal defence of Keats by Hunt would only have increased the virulence
of his enemies, as they both perfectly well knew. Privately at the same
time Reynolds, who had just been reading _The Pot of Basil_ in
manuscript, wrote to his friend with affectionate wisdom as follows:--

  As to the poem, I am of all things anxious that you should publish it,
  for its completeness will be a full answer to all the ignorant
  malevolence of cold, lying Scotchmen and stupid Englishmen. The
  overweening struggle to oppress you only shows the world that so much
  of endeavour cannot be directed to nothing. Men do not set their
  muscles and strain their sinews to break a straw. I am confident,
  Keats, that the 'Pot of Basil' hath that simplicity and quiet pathos
  which are of a sure sovereignty over all hearts. I must say that it
  would delight me to have you prove yourself to the world what we know
  you to be--to have you annul _The Quarterly Review_ by the best of all
  answers. One or two of your sonnets you might print, I am sure. And I
  know that I may suggest to you which, because you can decide as you
  like afterward. You will remember that we were to print together. I
  give over all intention, and you ought to be alone. I can never write
  anything now--my mind is taken the other way. But I shall set my
  heart on having you high, as you ought to be. Do _you_ get Fame, and I
  shall have it in being your affectionate and steady friend.

Woodhouse, in a correspondence with the unceasingly kind and loyal
publishers Taylor and Hessey, shows himself as deeply moved as anyone,
and Taylor in the course of the autumn sought to enlist on behalf of the
victim the private sympathies of one of the most cultivated and
influential Liberal thinkers and publicists of the time, Sir James
Mackintosh. Sending him a copy of _Endymion_, Taylor writes:--'Its
faults are numberless, but there are redeeming features in my opinion,
and the faults are those of real Genius. Whatever this work is, its
Author is a true poet.' After a few words as to Keats's family and
circumstances he adds, 'These are odd particulars to give, when I am
introducing the work and not the man to you,--but if you knew him, you
would also feel that strange personal interest in all that concerns
him.--Mr Gifford forgot his own early life when he tried to bear down
this young man. Happily, it will not succeed. If he lives, Keats will be
the brightest ornament of this Age.' In concluding Taylor recommends
particularly to his correspondent's attention the hymn to Pan, the
Glaucus episode, and above all the triumph of Bacchus.

Proud in the extreme, Keats had no irritable vanity; and aiming in his
art, if not always steadily, yet always at the highest, he rather
despised than courted such successes as he saw some of his
contemporaries--Thomas Moore, for instance, with _Lalla Rookh_--enjoy.
'I hate,' he says, 'a mawkish popularity.' Wise recognition and
encouragement would no doubt have helped and cheered him, but even in
the hopes of permanent fame which he avowedly cherished, there was
nothing intemperate or impatient; and he was conscious of perceiving his
own shortcomings at least as clearly as his critics. Accordingly he took
his treatment at their hands more coolly than older and more experienced
men had taken the like. Hunt, as we have seen, had replied indignantly
to his Blackwood traducers, repelling scorn with scorn, and he and
Hazlitt were both at first red-hot to have the law of them. Keats after
the first sting with great dignity and simplicity treated the annoyance
as one merely temporary, indifferent, and external. When early in
October Mr Hessey sent for his encouragement the extracts from the
papers in which he had been defended, he wrote:--

  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 criticism has given me pain without
  comparison beyond what 'Blackwood' or the 'Quarterly' could possibly
  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. S. is perfectly right in regard to the slip-shod
  _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 its 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 creative 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 among the greatest. But I am nigh getting into
  a rant.

Two or three weeks later, in answer to a similar encouraging letter from
Woodhouse, he explains, in sentences luminous with self-knowledge, what
he calls his own chameleon character as a poet, and the variable and
impressionable temperament such a character implies. 'Where then,' he
adds, 'is the wonder that I should say I would write no more? Might I
not at that very instant have been cogitating on the characters of
Saturn and Ops?... I know not whether I make myself wholly understood: I
hope enough to make you see that no dependence is to be placed on what I
said that day.' And again about the same time to his brother and
sister-in-law:--

  There have been two letters in my defence in the 'Chronicle,' and one
  in the 'Examiner,' copied from the Exeter paper, and written by
  Reynolds. I don't know who wrote those in the 'Chronicle.' This is a
  mere matter of the moment: I think I shall be among the English Poets
  after my death. Even as a matter of present interest, the attempt to
  crush me in the 'Quarterly' has only brought me more into notice, and
  it is a common expression among bookmen, 'I wonder the "Quarterly"
  should cut its own throat.'

  It does me not the least harm in Society to make me appear little and
  ridiculous: I know when a man is superior to me and give him all due
  respect--he will be the last to laugh at me and as for the rest I feel
  that I make an impression upon them which ensures me personal respect
  while I am in sight whatever they may say when my back is turned.

Since these firm expressions of indifference to critical attack have
been before the world, it has been too confidently assumed that Shelley
and Byron were totally misled and wide of the mark when they believed
that _Blackwood_ and the _Quarterly_ had killed Keats or even much hurt
him. But the truth is that not they, but their consequences, did in
their degree help to kill him. It must not be supposed that such words
of wisdom and composure, manifestly sincere as they are, represent the
whole of Keats, or anything like the whole. They represent, indeed, the
admirably sound and manly elements which were a part of him: they show
us the veins of what Matthew Arnold calls flint and iron in his nature
uppermost. But he was no Wordsworth, to remain all flint and iron in
indifference to derision and in the scorn of scorn. He had not only in a
tenfold degree the ordinary acuteness of a poet's feelings: he had the
variable and chameleon temperament of which he warns Woodhouse while in
the very act of re-assuring him: he had along with the flint and iron a
strong congenital tendency, against which he was always fighting but not
always successfully, to fits of depression and self-torment. Moreover
the reviews of those days, especially the _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly_,
had a real power of barring the acceptance and checking the sale of an
author's work. What actually happened was that when a year or so later
Keats began to realise the harm which the reviews had done and were
doing to his material prospects, these consequences in his darker hours
preyed on him severely and conspired with the forces of disease and
passion to his undoing.

For the present and during the first stress of the _Blackwood_ and
_Quarterly_ storms, he was really living under the pressure of another
and far more heartfelt trouble. His friends the Dilkes, before they
heard of his intended return from Scotland, had felt reluctantly bound
to write and summon him home on account of the alarming condition of his
brother Tom, whom he had left behind in their lodgings at Well Walk. In
fact the case was desperate, and for the next three months Keats's chief
occupation was the harrowing one of watching and ministering to this
dying brother. In a letter written to Dilke in the third week of
September, he speaks thus of his feelings and occupations:--

  I wish I could say Tom was better. His identity presses upon me so all
  day that I am obliged to go out--and although I had intended to have
  given some time to study alone, I am obliged to write and plunge into
  abstract images to ease myself of his countenance, his voice, and
  feebleness--so that I live now in a continual fever. It must be
  poisonous to life, although I feel well. Imagine 'the hateful siege of
  contraries'--if I think of fame, of poetry, it seems a crime to me,
  and yet I must do so or suffer.'

And again about the same time to Reynolds:--

  I never was in love, yet the voice and shape of a Woman has haunted me
  these two days--at such a time when the relief, the feverish relief of
  poetry, seems a much less crime. This morning poetry has conquered--I
  have relapsed into those abstractions which are my only life--I feel
  escaped from a new, strange, and threatening sorrow, and I am
  thankful for it. There is an awful warmth about my heart, like a load
  of immortality.

What he calls the abstractions into which he had plunged for relief were
the conceptions of the fallen Titans, 'the characters of Saturn and Ops'
at the beginning of _Hyperion_. Those conceptions were just beginning to
clothe themselves in his mind in the verses which every English reader
knows, verses of a cadence as majestic and pathetic almost as any in the
language, yet scarcely more charged with high emotion or more pregnant
with the sense and pressure of destiny than some of the prose of his
familiar letters written about the same time. His only other attempt in
poetry during those weeks was a translation from a sonnet of Ronsard,
whose works Taylor had lent him and from whom he got some hints for the
names and characters of his Titans. As the autumn wore on the task of
the watcher grew ever more sorrowful and absorbing, he was obliged to
desist from poetry for the time. But his correspondence shows no
flagging. Towards the middle of October he began, marking it as A, the
first of the series of journal-letters to his brother and sister in
America, which give us during the next fifteen months a picture of his
outward and inward being fuller and richer than we possess from any
other poet, and except in one single particular absolutely unreserved.
Despatching the packet on his birthday, that is October 29 or 31, he
explains why it is not longer (it is over 7,000 words): 'Tom is rather
more easy than he has been: but is still so nervous that I cannot speak
to him of these Matters--indeed it is the care I have had to keep his
mind aloof from feelings too acute that has made this letter so short a
one--I did not like to write before him a letter he knew was to reach
your hands--I cannot even now ask him for any Message--his heart speaks
to you. Be as happy as you can.' Keats had begun by warning George and
his wife, in language of beautiful tender moderation and sincerity, to
prepare their minds for the worst, and assuring them of the comfort he
took in the thoughts of them:--'I have Fanny and I have you--three
people whose Happiness to me is sacred--and it does annul that selfish
sorrow which I should otherwise fall into, living as I do with poor Tom
who looks upon me as his only comfort--the tears will come into your
Eyes--let them--and embrace each other--thank heaven for what happiness
you have, and after thinking a moment or two that you suffer in common
with all Mankind hold it not a sin to regain your cheerfulness.' Between
the opening and the closing note of tenderness, the letter runs through
a wide range of subject and feeling; gossip about the Dilkes and other
acquaintances; an account of the humours of his sea-passage from
Inverness to London; the unruffled allusion to the Tory reviews from
which we have already quoted; two long and curious sex-haunted passages,
one expressing his admiration of the same East Indian cousin of the
Reynoldses, 'not a Cleopatra, but at least a Charmian,' whom we have
found mentioned already in a letter to Reynolds, the other telling what
promised to be an equivocal adventure, but turned out quite
conventionally and politely, with a mysterious lady acquaintance met
once before at Hastings; a rambling discussion on the state of home and
foreign politics; a rhapsody, or as he would have called it rant, in a
mounting strain of verse which rings like a boy's voice singing in alt,
prophesying that the child to be born to George and his wife shall be
the first American poet; then more babble about friends and
acquaintances; then, as if he knew that the invincible thing, the
love-god whose spell he had always at once dreaded and longed for, were
hovering and about to swoop, he tries to re-assure himself by calling up
the reasons why marriage and the life domestic are not for him. The
Charmian passage and the passage in which he seeks to stave off the
approach of love are among the best known in his letters, but
nevertheless the most necessary to quote:--

  She has a rich eastern look; she has fine eyes and fine manners. When
  she comes into a room she makes an impression the same as the Beauty
  of a Leopardess. She is too fine and too conscious of herself to
  repulse any Man who may address her--from habit she thinks that
  nothing _particular_. I always find myself more at ease with such a
  woman; the picture before me always gives me a life and animation
  which I cannot possibly feel with anything inferior. I am at such
  times too much occupied in admiring to be awkward or on a tremble. I
  forget myself entirely because I live in her. You will by this time
  think I am in love with her; so before I go further I will tell you I
  am not--she kept me awake one Night as a tune of Mozart's might do. I
  speak of the thing as a pastime and an amusement than which I can feel
  none deeper than a conversation with an imperial woman the very 'yes'
  and 'no' of whose Lips is to me a Banquet. I don't cry to take the
  Moon home with me in my Pocket nor do I fret to leave her behind me. I
  like her and her like because one has no _sensations_--what we both
  are is taken for granted. You will suppose I have by this had much
  talk with her--no such thing--there are the Miss Reynoldses on the
  look out. They think I don't admire her because I did not stare at
  her. They call her a flirt to me. What a want of knowledge! She walks
  across a room in such a Manner that a Man is drawn towards her with a
  magnetic Power. This they call flirting! They do not know things.

In the next passage, almost as the young priest Ion in the Greek play
clings to his ministration in the temple of Apollo, so we find Keats
cleaving exultingly to his high vocation and to the idea of a life
dedicated to poetry alone. But a great spiritual flaw in his nature--or
was it only a lack of fortunate experience?--betrays itself in his
conception of the alternative from which he shrinks. The imagery under
which he figures marriage joys gives no hint of their power to
discipline and inspire and sustain, and is trivially sensuous and
material.

  Notwithstanding your Happiness and your recommendation I hope I shall
  never marry. Though the most beautiful Creature were waiting for me at
  the end of a Journey or a Walk; though the Carpet were of Silk, the
  Curtains of the morning Clouds; the chairs and Sofa stuffed with
  Cygnet's down; the food Manna, the Wine beyond Claret, the Window
  opening on Windermere, I should not feel--or rather my Happiness would
  not be so fine, as my Solitude is sublime. Then instead of what I have
  described there is a sublimity to welcome me home. The roaring of the
  wind is my wife and the Stars through the windowpane are my Children.
  The mighty abstract Idea I have of Beauty in all things stifles the
  more divided and minute domestic happiness--an amiable wife and sweet
  Children I contemplate as a part of that Beauty, but I must have a
  thousand of those beautiful particles to fill up my heart. I feel more
  and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live
  in this world alone but in a thousand worlds. No sooner am I alone
  than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around me, and serve my
  Spirit the office which is equivalent to a King's body-guard--then
  'Tragedy with sceptered pall comes sweeping by.' According to my state
  of mind I am with Achilles shouting in the Trenches, or with
  Theocritus in the Vales of Sicily. Or I throw my whole being into
  Troilus, and repeating those lines, 'I wander like a lost Soul upon
  the Stygian Banks staying for waftage,' I melt into the air with a
  voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be alone. These
  things, combined with the opinion I have of the generality of
  women--who appear to me as children to whom I would rather give a
  sugar Plum than my time, form a barrier against Matrimony which I
  rejoice in.

Throughout November Keats was so fully absorbed in attendance on his
dying brother as to be unfit for poetry or correspondence. On the night
of December 1 the end came. 'Early the next morning,' writes Brown, 'I
was awakened in bed by a pressure on my hand. It was Keats, who came to
tell me that his brother was no more. I said nothing, and we both
remained silent for a while, my hand fast locked in his. At length, my
thoughts returning from the dead to the living, I said,--"Have nothing
more to do with those lodgings,--and alone too! Had you not better live
with me?" He paused, pressed my hand warmly, and replied, "I think it
would be better." From that moment he was my inmate.'


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Houghton MSS.

  [2] The source is the Spanish _sangrador_, blood-letter; which Le
    Sage in _Gil Blas_ converts into a proper name, Sangrado.

  [3] The old _Scots Magazine_ lately re-started under a new name; see
    above, p. 132.



CHAPTER XI

DECEMBER 1818-JUNE 1819: KEATS AND BROWN HOUSEMATES: FANNY BRAWNE: WORK
AND IDLENESS

  Removal to Wentworth Place--Work on _Hyperion_--The insatiable
  Haydon--The Misses Porter--A mingled yarn--Charles Lamb and
  punning--Hunt and his satellites--Fanny Brawne--A sudden
  enslavement--Severn's impressions--Visit to Hampshire--_The Eve of St.
  Agnes_--Return and engagement--Ode to Fanny--Love and jealousy--Haydon
  again--Letters to Fanny Keats--Two months' idleness--Praise of
  claret--Bailey's love-affairs--Fit of languor--Fight with a
  butcher--Sonnet-confessions--Reflections ethical and cosmic--Meeting
  with Coleridge--The same according to the sage--A tactful
  review--Sonnets on fame--_La Belle Dame Sans Merci_--The right version
  quoted--The five Odes--Their date and order--A fruitful
  May--Indecision and anxiety--A confidential letter--Departure for
  Shanklin.


Dilke and Brown, as has been said already, had built for themselves a
joint block of two houses in a garden near the bottom of John Street,
Hampstead, and had called the property Wentworth Place, after a name
hereditary in the Dilke family. Dilke and his wife occupied the larger
of the two houses forming the block, and Brown, who was a bachelor, the
smaller house, standing to the west.[1] The accommodation in Brown's
quarters included a front and back sitting-room on the ground floor,
with a front and back bedroom over them, and a small spare bedroom or
'crib' where a bachelor guest could be put up for the night. The
arrangement with Keats was that he should share household expenses,
occupying the front sitting-room for the sake of quiet at his work. His
move to his new quarters does not seem to have been quite so immediate
as Brown represents it. Beginning a new journal-letter to his brother
and sister-in-law a week or two after Tom's death, Keats writes, 'With
Dilke and Brown I am quite thick--with Brown indeed I am going to
domesticate, that is, we shall keep house together. I shall have the
front parlour and he the back one, by which I shall be able to avoid the
noise of Bentley's Children--and be better able to go on with my
studies--which have been greatly interrupted lately, so that I have not
a shadow of an idea for books in my head, and my pen seems to have grown
gouty for verse.'

This phase of poetical stagnation, which had naturally set in as his
cares for his dying brother grew more engrossing towards the end, passed
away quickly. By about the middle of December Keats was settled at
Wentworth Place, whither his ex-landlord, Bentley the postman, we are
told, carried down his little library of some hundred and fifty books in
a clothes-basket from Well Walk. In spite of the noisy children Keats
parted not without regret from the Bentleys, and speaks feelingly of Mrs
Bentley's kindness and attention during his late trouble. As soon,
relates Brown, as the consolations of nature and friendship had in some
measure softened his grief, he plunged once more into poetry, his
special task being _Hyperion_, at which he had already begun to work
before his brother died. But he never got into a quite happy or
uninterrupted flow of work on it. Once and again we find him moved to
lay it aside for a bout of brotherly gossip with George and Georgiana
in America. 'Just now I took out my poem to go on with it--but the
thought of my writing so little to you came upon me and I could not get
on--so I have begun at random and I have not a word to say--and yet my
thoughts are so full of you that I can do nothing else.' And again: 'I
have no thought pervading me so constantly and frequently as that of
you--my Poem cannot frequently drive it away--you will retard it much
more than you could by taking up my time if you were in England. I never
forget you except after seeing now and then some beautiful woman--but
that is a fever--the thought of you both is a passion with me, but for
the most part a calm one.'

This letter, covering some three weeks from mid-December to January 4,
enables us, like others to the same correspondents, to lay our finger on
almost every strand in the 'mingled yarn' of Keats's life and doings. Of
one tiresome interruption which befell him about Christmas he tells
nothing, doubtless in order to spare his brother anxiety. This was a
request for money from the insatiable Haydon. The correspondence on the
matter cannot be read without anger against the elder man and admiring
affection for the generous lad--yet not foolishly or recklessly
generous--on whom he sponged. Haydon's only excuses are a recent
eye-trouble which had hindered his work, and his inflated belief, which
had so far successfully imposed both upon himself and his friends, in
his own huge importance to art and to his country. Keats writes, showing
incidentally how last year's critical rebuffs had changed, more or less
permanently, his attitude in regard to the public and public
recognition:--

  Believe me Haydon I have that sort of fire in my heart that would
  sacrifice everything I have to your service--I speak without any
  reserve--I know you would do so for me--I open my heart to you in a
  few words. I will do this sooner than you shall be distressed: but let
  me be the last stay--Ask the rich lovers of Art first--I'll tell you
  why--I have a little money which may enable me to study, and to
  travel for three or four years. I never expect to get anything by my
  Books: and moreover I wish to avoid publishing--I admire Human Nature
  but I do not like _Men_. I should like to compose things honourable to
  Man--but not fingerable over by Men. So I am anxious to exist without
  troubling the printer's devil or drawing upon Men's or Women's
  admiration--in which great solitude I hope God will give me strength
  to rejoice. Try the long purses--but do not sell your drawings or I
  shall consider it a breach of friendship.

Haydon answers in a gush of grandiloquent gratitude, promising to try
every corner first, but intimating pretty clearly that he knew his
wealthier habitual helpers were for the present tired out with him. One
of his phrases is a treasure. 'Ah Keats, this is sad work for one of my
soul and Ambition. The truest thing you ever said of mortal was that I
had a touch of Alexander in me! I have, I know it, and the World shall
know it, but this is a purgative drug I must first take.' 'This' means
his own perpetual need and habit of living on other people. In the next
letter Haydon of course accepts Keats's offer, and in the Christmas
weeks, when he should have been wholly engrossed in _Hyperion_, Keats
had much and for some time fruitless ado with bankers, lawyers, and
guardian in endeavouring to fulfil his promise. To his brother he only
says he has been dining with Haydon and otherwise seeing much of him;
mentions the painter's eye-trouble; and quotes him as describing vividly
at second hand the sufferings of Captain (afterwards Sir John) Ross and
his party on their voyage in search of the North-West passage.

From Ross in Baffin's Bay the same letter rambles to Ritchie in the
deserts of Morocco, and thence to gossip about the best way of keeping
his own and George's brotherly intimacy unbroken across the ocean; about
the 'sickening stuff' printed in Hunt's new _Literary Pocket Book_ (it
was when he was seeing most of Haydon that Keats was always most
inclined to harsh criticism of Hunt); about Mrs Dilke's cats, and about
Godwin's novels and Hazlitt's opinion of them, and the rare pleasure he
has had at Haydon's in looking through a book of engravings after early
Italian frescoes in a church at Milan. 'Milan' must be a mistake, for
there are no such engravings,[2] and what Keats saw must certainly have
been the fine series by Lasinio, published in 1814, after the frescoes
of Orcagna, Benozzo Gozzoli, and the rest in the Campo Santo at Pisa. 'I
do not think I ever had a greater treat out of Shakespeare. Full of
romance and the most tender feeling--magnificence of draperies beyond
everything I ever saw, not excepting Raphael's. But Grotesque to a
curious pitch--yet still making up a fine whole--even finer to me than
more accomplished works--as there was left so much room for
Imagination.' It is interesting to find Keats thus vividly awake, as
very few yet were either by instinct or fashion, to the charm of the
Italian primitives, and to remember how it was a copy of this same book
of prints, in the possession of young John Everett Millais thirty years
later, which first aroused the Pre-Raphaelite enthusiasm in him and his
associates Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt (the last-named is our
witness for the fact).

Keats tells moreover how an unknown admirer from the west country had
sent him a letter and sonnet of sympathy, with which was enclosed a
further tribute in the shape of a £25 note; how he had been both pleased
and displeased,--'if I had refused it I should have behaved in a very
braggadocio dunderheaded manner, and yet the present galls me a little';
and again how he has received through Woodhouse a glowing letter of
sympathy and encouragement from Miss Jane Porter, the then famous
authoress of _Thaddeus of Warsaw_ and _The Scottish Chiefs_, who desires
his acquaintance on her own behalf and that of her sister Anna Maria,
almost equally popular at the hour by her romance of _The Hungarian
Brothers_. By all this, says Keats, he feels more obliged than
flattered--'so obliged that I will not at present give you an
extravaganza of a Lady Romancer. I will be introduced to them if it be
merely for the pleasure of writing to you about it--I shall certainly
see a new race of People.' Pity he failed to carry out his purpose:
pen-portraits satirical and other are not lacking of these admired
sisters, the tall and tragical Jane, the blonde and laughing Anna Maria,
'La Penserosa' and 'L'Allegra,' but a sketch by Keats would have been an
interesting addition to them. Still in the same letter, he complains of
the sore throat which he finds it hard to shake off, and tells how he
has given up or all but given up taking snuff (nearly everybody in that
generation snuffed), and how he has been shooting with Dilke on
Hampstead Heath and shot a tomtit,--a feat which for a moment calls up
this divine poet to our minds in the guise of one of the cockney
sportsmen of Seymour's caricatures. Never mind: he can afford it.

From an enquiry about the expected baby in America,--'will the little
bairn have made his entrance before you have this? Kiss it for me, and
when it can first know a cheese from a Caterpillar show it my picture
twice a week,'--from this he passes to the re-assuring statement that
the attack upon him in the Quarterly has in some quarters done him
actual service. He tells how constrained and out of his element he feels
in ordinary society; a common experience of genius, and part of the
price it pays for living at a different level and temperature of thought
and feeling from the herd. 'I am passing a Quiet day--which I have not
done for a long while--and if I do continue so, I feel I must again
begin with my poetry--for if I am not in action of mind or Body I am in
pain--and from that I suffer greatly by going into parties where from
the rules of society and a natural pride I am obliged to smother my
Spirit and look like an Idiot--because I feel my impulses given way to
would too much amaze them--I live under an everlasting restraint--never
relieved except when I am composing--so I will write away.' And
resuming apparently on Christmas Day:--'I think you knew before you
left England, that my next subject would be "the fall of Hyperion." I
went on a little with it last night, but it will take some time to get
into the vein again. I will not give you any extracts, because I wish
the whole to make an impression. I have however a few Poems which you
will like, and I will copy out on the next sheet.' Nearly a week later
he adds, 'I will insert any little pieces I may write--though I will not
give any extracts from my large poem which is scarce began.' The phrase
about _Hyperion_ must be taken as indicating on how great a scale he had
conceived the poem rather than how little he had yet written of it. In
point of fact all we have of this mighty fragment must have been written
either by his brother's bedside in September-October 1818 (but then
certainly only a little) or else in these Christmas weeks from
mid-December to mid-January 1818-19. The short poems he sends are the
spirited sets of heptasyllabics, _Fancy_, and _Lines on the Mermaid
Tavern_, the former one of the best things in the second and lighter
class of his work: and with them the fragment written for music, 'I had
a dove.' In relation to these he says 'It is my intention to wait a few
years before I publish any minor poems--and then I hope to have a volume
of some worth--and which those people will relish who cannot bear the
burthen of a long poem.'

Presently Charles Lamb comes for a moment upon the scene. 'I have seen
Lamb lately--Brown and I were taken by Hunt to Novello's--there we were
devastated and excruciated with bad and repeated puns--Brown don't want
to go again.' Punning, like snuffing, was the all but universal fashion
of that age, as those of us can best realize who are old enough to
remember grandfathers that belonged to it; and judging by the specimens
Brown and Keats have themselves left, puns too bad for them are scarce
imaginable. Novello is of course the distinguished organist, composer
and music-publisher, Vincent Novello, whose Sunday evening musical
parties were frequented by all the Lamb and Hunt circle, and whose
eldest daughter, Mary Victoria, was married some ten years later to
Cowden Clarke. At this time she was but a child of ten, but writing many
years afterwards she has left a vivid reminiscence of Keats at her
father's house, 'with his picturesque head, leaning against the
instruments, one foot raised on his knee and smoothed beneath his hands'
(an attitude said to have been perpetuated in a lost portrait by
Severn). Is the above a memory of the one evening only which Keats
himself mentions, or of others when his love of music may have drawn him
to the Novellos' house in spite of the puns and of company for the
moment not much to his taste? For the ways of Hunt and some of his
circle, their mutual flatteries, their habit of trivial, chirping
ecstasy over the things they liked, their superfluity of glib,
complacent comment rubbing the bloom off sacred beauties of art and
poetry and nature, were jarring on Keats's nerves just now; and though
perfectly aware of Hunt's essential virtues of kind-heartedness and good
comradeship, he writes with some irritability of impatience:--

  Hunt has asked me to meet Tom Moore some day so you shall hear of him.
  The night we went to Novello's there was a complete set-to of Mozart
  and punning. I was so completely tired of it that if I were to follow
  my own inclinations I should never meet any one of that set again, not
  even Hunt who is certainly a pleasant fellow in the main when you are
  with him--but in reality he is vain, egotistical, and disgusting in
  matters of taste and in morals. He understands many a beautiful thing;
  but then, instead of giving other minds credit for the same degree of
  perception as he himself professes--he begins an explanation in such a
  curious manner that our taste and self-love is offended continually.
  Hunt does one harm by making fine things petty and beautiful things
  hateful. Through him I am indifferent to Mozart, I care not for white
  Busts--and many a glorious thing when associated with him becomes a
  nothing. This distorts one's mind--makes one's thoughts
  bizarre--perplexes one in the standard of Beauty.

A little later he improvises a sample, not more than mildly satirical,
from a comedy he professes to be planning on the ways and manners of
Hunt and his satellites.

In the same letter a new personage makes her momentous entry on the
scene. 'Mrs Brawne who took Brown's house for the summer still resides
at Hampstead--she is a very nice woman--and her daughter senior is I
think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable, and
strange--we have a little tiff now and then, and she behaves better, or
I must have sheered off.' This Mrs Brawne was a widow lady of West
Indian connexions and some little fortune, with a daughter, Fanny, just
grown up and two younger children. She had rented Brown's house while he
and Keats were away in Scotland, and had naturally become acquainted
with the Dilkes living next door and sharing a common garden. After
Brown's return Mrs Brawne moved with her family to a house in Downshire
Street close by. The acquaintance with the Dilkes was kept up, and it
was through them, not long after he came back from Scotland, that Keats
first met Fanny Brawne. His next words about her are these:--

  Shall I give you Miss Brawne? She is about my height with a fine style
  of countenance of the lengthened sort--she manages to make her hair
  look well--her nostrils are fine--though a little painful--her mouth
  is bad and good--her Profile is better than her full-face which indeed
  is not full but pale and thin without showing any bone. Her shape is
  very graceful and so are her movements--her Arms are good, her hands
  bad-ish her feet tolerable--she is not seventeen--but she is
  ignorant--monstrous in her behaviour, flying out in all directions,
  calling people such names that I was forced lately to make use of the
  term _Minx_--this is I think not from any innate vice but from a
  penchant she has for acting stylishly. I am however tired of such
  style and shall decline any more of it.

An attraction which has begun by repulsion is ever the most dangerous of
all. The heightened emotional strain of his weeks of tendance on his
dying brother had laid Keats open to both influences at their fullest
power; he was ripe, as several passages from his letters have made us
feel, for the tremendous adventure of love; and the 'new, strange, and
threatening sorrow' from which he had with relief declared himself
escaped when the momentary lure of the East-Indian Charmian left him
fancy-free, was about to fall on him in good earnest now. Before many
weeks he was hopelessly enslaved, and passion teaching him a sensitive
secretiveness and reserve, he says to brother and sister no word more of
his enslaver except by way of the lightest passing allusion. From his
first semi-sarcastic account of her above quoted, as well as from
Severn's mention of her likeness to the draped figure in Titian's
picture of Sacred and Profane Love, and from the full-length silhouette
of her that has been preserved, it is possible to realise something of
her aspect and presence.

A brisk and blooming young beauty of a little over eighteen (Keats's
'not seventeen' is a mistake) with blonde hair and vivid palish
colouring, a somewhat sharply cut aquiline cast of features, a slight,
shapely figure rather short than tall, a liveliness of manner bordering
on the boisterous, and no doubt some taking air and effluence of youth
and vitality and sex,--such was Fanny Brawne externally, but of her
character we have scant means of judging. Neither she nor her mother can
have been worldly-minded, or they would never have encouraged the
attentions of a youth like Keats, whose prospects were problematical or
null. It is clear that, though certainly high-spirited, inexperienced,
and self-confident, she was kind and in essentials constant to her
lover, and patient and unresentful under his occasional wild outbursts
of jealousy and suspicion. But it seems equally clear that she did not
half realise what manner of man he was, nor how high and privileged was
the charge committed to her. She had no objection to the prospect of a
long engagement, and despite her lover's remonstrances held herself free
in the meantime to enjoy to the full the pleasures of her age and the
admiration of other men.[3] One day early in the new year Keats took
the devoted Severn to call on his new friends. Severn was much pleased
with the mother, who seems to have been in truth a cultivated kind and
gentle person; but he did not take to the daughter or even much admire
her looks, and though perceiving her attraction for Keats did not then
or till long afterwards realise the fatal strength of its hold upon him.
'That poor idle Thing of Womankind to whom he has so unaccountably
attached himself'--so she is styled by Reynolds in a letter to Taylor a
year and a half later. Brown, who knew her much better, and whose
friendship with her sometimes showed itself in gallantries at which
Keats writhed in secret, writes of her always in terms of kindness and
respect, but never very explicitly. The very few of Keats's friends who
came to be in his confidence, including Dilke and his wife, seem to have
been agreed, although they bore her no ill will, in regarding the
attachment as a misfortune for him.

So it assuredly was: so probably under the circumstances must any
passion for a woman have been. Blow on blow had in truth begun to fall
on Keats, as though in fulfilment of the constitutional misgivings to
which he was so often secretly a prey. First the departure of his
brother George had deprived him of his closest friend, to whom alone he
had from boyhood been accustomed to confide those obsessions of his
darker hours and in confiding to find relief from them. Next the
exertions of his Scottish tour had proved too much for his strength, and
laid him open to the attacks of his hereditary enemy, consumption.
Coming back, he had found his brother Tom almost at his last gasp in the
clutch of that enemy, and in nursing him had both lived in spirit
through all his pains and breathed for many weeks a close atmosphere of
infection. At the same time the gibes of the reviewers, little as they
might touch his inner self, came to teach him the harshness and
carelessness of the world's judgments, and the precariousness of his
practical hopes from literature. Now were to be added the pangs of
love,--love requited indeed, but having no near or sure prospect of
fruition: and even love disdained might have made him suffer less. The
passion took him, as it often takes consumptives, in its fiercest form:
Love the limb-loosener, the bitter-sweet torment, the wild beast there
is no withstanding, never harried a more helpless victim.[4]

By what stages the coils closed on him we can only guess. His own
account of the matter to Fanny Brawne was that he had written himself
her vassal within a week of their first meeting: which took place, we
know, some time during the period of watching by Tom's sick-bed. After
he went to live with Brown in December they must have met frequently.
Probably it was this new attraction, as well as his chronic throat
trouble and his concern over Haydon's affairs, which made him postpone a
promised visit to Dilke's relations in Hampshire from Christmas until
mid-January. He then carried out his promise, going to join Brown at
Bedhampton, the home of Dilke's brother-in-law Mr John Snook. He liked
his hosts and received pleasure from his visit, but was unwell and
during a stay of a fortnight only once went outside the garden. This was
to a gathering of country clergy reinforced by two bishops, at the
consecration of a chapel built by a great Jew-convertor, a Mr Way. The
ceremony got on his nerves and caused him to write afterwards to his
brother an entertaining splenetic diatribe on the clerical character and
physiognomy. He spent also a few days with Dilke's father in Chichester,
and went out twice to dowager card parties. These social pleasures were
naught to him, and his spirits, like his health, were low. But his
genius was never more active. We have seen in the midst of what worries
and interruptions he had worked before and during Christmas at
_Hyperion_, the fragment which in our language stands next in epic
quality to _Paradise Lost_. At Bedhampton in January, on some thin
sheets of thin paper brought down for the purpose, he wrote the _Eve of
St Agnes_, for its author merely 'a little poem,' for us a masterpiece
aglow in every line with the vital quintessence of romance.

No word of Keats's own or of his friends prepares us for this new
achievement or informs when he began first to think of the subject. It
must of course have been ripening in his mind some good while before he
thus suddenly and swiftly cast it into shape. When he wrote three months
earlier of having to seek relief beside the sick-bed of his brother by
'plunging into abstract images,' were they images of primeval Greek gods
and Titans only, or were these contrasted figures and colours of
mediæval romance beginning to occupy his imagination at the same time?
Had the subject perhaps come into his mind as long ago as the preceding
March, when Hunt and Reynolds and he were having the talks about
Boccaccio which resulted in Keats's _Isabella_ and Reynolds's _Garden of
Florence_ and _Ladye of Provence_? We shall see that Boccaccio counts
for something in Keats's treatment of the St Agnes' Eve story, so that
the supposition is at least plausible. Or may it even have been of this
story and not, as is commonly assumed, of _Hyperion_ that he was
thinking as far back as September 1817 when he wrote to Haydon from
Oxford of the 'new romance' he had in his mind? Woodhouse does not throw
much light on such questions when he tells us that 'the subject was
suggested by Mrs Jones.' This name, uncongenial to the muse (excepting
the muse of Wordsworth) is otherwise unknown in connexion with Keats.
Did the same lady also tell him of the tradition concerning St Mark's
day (April 25th), and so become the 'only begetter' of that remarkable
fragment _The Eve of St Mark_, which he wrote (Woodhouse again is the
authority for the dates) between the 13th and 17th of February after his
return to Hampstead? In connexion with Keats few stones have been left
unturned for further personal or critical research, but here is one.

Keats was back at Hampstead by the end of January and it must have been
very soon afterwards that he became the declared and accepted lover of
Fanny Brawne, savouring intensely thenceforward all the tantalising
sweets and bitters of that estate, though nothing was said to friends
about the engagement. From the first he suffered severely from the sense
of her freedom to enjoy pleasures and excitements for which neither his
health nor his social habits and inclinations fitted him. The tale of
the _Eve of St Mark_, begun and broken off just at this time, may
possibly, as Rossetti thought, have been designed to turn on the remorse
of a young girl for sufferings of a like kind inflicted on her lover and
ending in his death. However that may be, we have two direct cries from
his heart, one of pure love-yearning, the other of racking jealousy,
which were written, if I read the evidences aright, almost immediately
after the engagement and can be dated almost to a day. These are the
first version, which has only lately become known, of the 'Bright Star'
sonnet, and the ode _To Fanny_ published posthumously by Lord Houghton.
Both carry internal evidence of having been written before the winter
was out: the sonnet in the words which invoke the star as watching the
moving waters,

  Or gazing at the new soft-fallen mask
  Of snow upon the mountains and the moors;

the ode in the lines,

  I come, I see thee as thou standest there,
  Beckon me not into the wintry air.[5]

Now it happens that this year there was frost and rough weather late in
February, with snowfalls on the afternoon of the 24th and again the
following morning. I imagine both sonnet and ode to have been written
while the cold spell lasted, the sonnet probably before dawn on the
actual morning of the 25th.[6] As slightly changed in form a year and a
half later this sonnet has been long endeared to us all as one of the
most beautiful in the language: I shall defer its discussion till we
come to the date of this recast. The ode has flaws, for to make good or
even bearable poetry out of that humiliating and grotesque passion of
physical jealousy is a hard matter. It begins poorly, with a sense of
discord, in the first stanza, between the choking violence of feeling
expressed and the artificial form into which its expression is cast. But
if we leave out this stanza, and also the fifth and sixth, which are a
little common and unequal, we get an appeal as painful, indeed, as it is
passionate, yet lacking neither in courtesy nor dignity, and conveyed in
a strain of verse almost without fault:--

  Ah! dearest love, sweet home of all my fears,
    And hopes, and joys, and panting miseries,--
  To-night, if I may guess, thy beauty wears
        A smile of such delight,
        As brilliant and as bright,
  As when with ravished, aching, vassal eyes,
        Lost in soft amaze,
        I gaze, I gaze!

  Who now, with greedy looks, eats up my feast?
    What stare outfaces now my silver moon?
  Ah! keep that hand unravished at the least;
        Let, let the amorous burn--
        But, pr'ythee, do not turn
  The current of your heart from me so soon.
        O! save, in charity,
        The quickest pulse for me.

  Save it for me, sweet love! though music breathe
    Voluptuous visions into the warm air;
  Though swimming through the dance's dangerous wreath,
        Be like an April day,
        Smiling and cold and gay,
  A temperate lily, temperate as fair;
        Then, Heaven! there will be
        A warmer June for me.

  Ah! if you prize my subdu'd soul above
    The poor, the fading, brief pride of an hour;
  Let none profane my Holy See of Love,
        Or with a rude hand break
        The sacramental cake:
  Let none else touch the just new-budded flower:
        If not--may my eyes close,
        Love! on their last repose.

In both of these poems Keats soothes himself with thoughts of dying, and
they are doubtless among the things he had in mind when two or three
months later, in the ode _To a Nightingale_, he speaks of having invoked
Death by soft names 'in many a musèd rhyme.'

Fearing the intrusion of what in another sonnet of the time he calls
'The dragon-world and all its hundred eyes,' he was intensely jealous in
guarding his secret from friends and acquaintances; and in writing even
to those dearest to him he lets slip no word that might betray it. To
his brother he merely says, 'Miss Brawne and I have now and then a chat
and a tiff,' while to his young sister he writes on February 27th that
he wishes he could come to her at Walthamstow for a month or so,
packing off Mrs Abbey to town, and get her to teach him 'a few common
dancing steps,'--for what reason, to us too pathetically evident, he of
course gives no hint.

On February 14th, about a fortnight after his return from Hampshire, and
on the very day when according to Woodhouse he began _The Eve of St
Mark_, Keats had put pen to a new journal-letter for America. A straw
showing how the wind was blowing with him is his mention that the
Reynolds sisters, whose company used to be among his chief pleasures,
are staying at the Dilkes next door and that he finds them 'very dull.'
So, we may guess, will they on their parts have found him. His only
other correspondents in these weeks are Haydon and his young sister
Fanny. Early in March Haydon returned to the charge about the loan. 'My
dear Keats--now I feel the want of your promised assistance.... Before
the 20th if you could help me it would be nectar and manna and all the
blessings of gratified thirst.' Keats had intended for Haydon's relief
some of the money due to him from his brother Tom's share in their
grandmother's gift; which he expected his guardian to make over to him
at once on his application. But difficulties of all sorts were raised,
and for some time after the new year he had the annoyance of finding
himself unable to do as he had hoped. When by-and-by Haydon writes, in
the true borrower's vein, reproaching him with his promise and his
failure to keep it, Keats replies without loss of temper, explaining
that he had supposed himself to have the necessary means in his hand,
but has been baffled by unforeseen difficulties in getting possession of
his money. Moreover he finds that much less remains of his small
inheritance than he had supposed, and even if all he had were laid on
the table, the intended loan would leave him barely enough to live on
for two years. Incidentally he mentions that he has already lent sums to
various friends amounting in all to near £200, of which he expects the
repayment late if ever. The upshot of the matter was that Keats
contrived somehow to lend Haydon thirty pounds which he could very ill
spare.

To his young sister Keats's letters during the same period are charming.
He lets her perceive nothing of his anxieties, and is full of brotherly
tenderness and careful advice; of interest in her preparation for her
approaching confirmation; of regrets that she is kept so much from him
by the scruples of Mr and Mrs Abbey, with humorous admonitions to
patience under that lady's 'unfeeling and ignorant gabble'; and of plans
for coming over to see her when the weather and his throat allow or when
he is in cash to pay the coach fare. On one day he is serious, begging
her to lean on him in all things:--'We have been very little together:
but you have not the less been with me in thought. You have no one else
in the world besides me who would sacrifice anything for you--I feel
myself the only Protector you have. In all your little troubles think of
me with the thought that there is at least one person in England who if
he could would help you out of them--I live in hopes of being able to
make you happy.' Another day he is all playfulness, thinking of various
little presents to please her, a selection of Tassie's gems, flowers
from the Tottenham nursery garden, drawing materials--and here follows
the passage above quoted (p. 10) against keeping live birds or fishes:--

  They are better in the trees and the water,--though I must confess
  even now a partiality for a handsome globe of gold-fish--then I would
  have it hold ten pails of water and be fed continually fresh through a
  cool pipe with another pipe to let through the floor--well ventilated
  they would preserve all their beautiful silver and crimson. Then I
  would put it before a handsome painted window and shade it all round
  with Myrtles and Japonicas. I should like the window to open on to the
  Lake of Geneva--and there I'd sit and read all day like the picture of
  somebody reading.

[Illustration: PL. VIII

_From a posthumous portrait by Joseph Severn

in the National Portrait Gallery

Emery Walker ph &c._]

For some time, in these letters to his sister, Keats expresses a
constant anxiety at getting no news from their brother George at the
distant Kentucky settlement whither he and his bride had at their last
advices been bound. Pending such news, he keeps writing up his
journal for them, and for nearly four months it grew and grew. Still in
February, he promises to send in the next packet his '_Pot of Basil_,
_St Agnes' Eve_, and if I should have finished it, a little thing called
the _Eve of St Mark_. You see what fine Mother Radcliffe names I
have--it is not my fault--I do not search for them. I have not gone on
with _Hyperion_, for to tell the truth I have not been in great cue for
writing lately--I must wait for the spring to rouse me up a little!'

As it fell out, he never went on either with _Hyperion_ or with the _Eve
of St Mark_, the romance just so promisingly begun. For fully two months
after breaking off the latter fragment (February 17th or 18th) he was
quite out of cue for writing, and produced nothing except the ode _To
Fanny_ (if I am right as to its date) and a few personal sonnets. Many
causes, we can feel, were working together to check for the time being
the creative impulse within him: the mere disturbing influence of the
spring season for one thing; discouragement at the public reception of
his work for another, though this was a motive external and relatively
secondary; the results of a deliberate mental stock-taking of his own
powers and performances for a third; and more deep-seated and
compulsive, though unexpressed, than any of these, the love-passion by
which three-fourths of his soul and consciousness had come to be
absorbed. Here, from a letter to Haydon of March 8, is an example of
what I mean by his mental stock-taking. The resolution it expresses is
of course more a matter of mood than of fixed purpose:--

  I have come to this resolution--never to write for the sake of writing
  or making a poem, but from running over with any little knowledge or
  experience which many years of reflection may perhaps give me;
  otherwise I will be dumb. What imagination I have I shall enjoy, and
  greatly, for I have experienced the satisfaction of having great
  conceptions without the trouble of sonnetteering. I will not spoil my
  love of gloom by writing an Ode to Darkness.

  With respect to my livelihood, I will not write for it,--for I will
  not run with that most vulgar of all crowds, the literary. Such things
  I ratify by looking upon myself, and trying myself at lifting mental
  weights, as it were. I am three and twenty, with little knowledge and
  middling intellect. It is true that in the height of enthusiasm I have
  been cheated into some fine passages; but that is not the thing.

Some five weeks later, about mid-April, we find that Haydon himself has
been a contributing cause to Keats's poetic inactivity by his behaviour
in regard to the loan which Keats had hoped but so far been unable to
make him. The failure he writes, has not been his fault:--

  I am doubly hurt at the slightly reproachful tone of your note and at
  the occasion of it,--for it must be some other disappointment; you
  seem'd so sure of some important help when last I saw you--now you
  have maimed me again; I was whole, I had begun reading again--when
  your note came I was engaged in a Book. I dread as much as a Plague
  the idle fever of two months more without any fruit. I will walk over
  the first fine day: then see what aspect your affairs have taken, and
  if they should continue gloomy walk into the City to Abbey and get his
  consent for I am persuaded that to me alone he will not concede a jot.

In the journal-letter of these weeks to his brother and sister-in-law,
mentioning how he had been asked to join Woodhouse over a bottle of
claret at his coffee-house, he breaks into a rhapsody over the virtues
and wholesomeness of that beverage and adds 'this same claret is the
only palate-passion I have--I forgot game--I must plead guilty to the
breast of a Partridge, the back of a hare, the back-bone of a grouse,
the wing and side of a Pheasant, and a Woodcock _passim_.' Turning to
his own affairs, he says,--

  I am in no despair about them--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 yours and Fanny's sake I
  will pluck up a spirit and try again. I have no doubt of success in a
  course of years if I persevere--but it must be patience--for the
  Reviews have enervated and made indolent men's minds--few think for
  themselves. These Reviews are getting more and more powerful,
  especially the Quarterly--they are like a superstition which the more
  it prostrates the Crowd and the longer it continues the more powerful
  it becomes just in proportion to their increasing weakness. I was in
  hopes that when people saw, as they must do now, all the trickery and
  iniquity of these Plagues they would scout them, but no, they are like
  the spectators at the Westminster cock-pit--they like the battle--and
  do not care who wins or who loses.

Among other matters he has a long story to tell about his friend
Bailey's fickleness in love. It appears that Bailey, after a first
unfortunate love-affair, had during the past year been paying his
addresses to Mariane Reynolds, begging that she would take time to
consider her answer, and that while her decision was still uncertain
Bailey, to the great indignation of all the Reynolds family and a little
to Keats's own, had engaged himself in Scotland to the sister of his
friend Gleig, afterwards well known as author of _The Subaltern_ and
Chaplain General to the Forces. Next Keats begins quoting with a natural
zest of admiration, almost in full, that incomparable piece of studied
and sustained invective, Hazlitt's _Letter to William Gifford Esqr._,
beside which Gifford's own controversial virulences seem relatively
blunt and boorish. Half way through Keats has to say he will copy the
rest tomorrow,--

  for the candles are burnt down and I am using the wax taper--which has
  a long snuff on it--the fire is at its last click--I am sitting with
  my back to it with one foot rather askew upon the rug and the other
  with the heel a little elevated from the carpet--I am writing this on
  the Maid's tragedy which I have read since tea with Great pleasure.
  Beside this volume of Beaumont and Fletcher--there are on the table
  two volumes of Chaucer and a new work of Tom Moore's called _Tom
  Cribb's Memorial to Congress_,--nothing in it. These are trifles but I
  require nothing so much of you but that you will give me a like
  description of yourselves, however it may be when you are writing to
  me. Could I see that same thing done of any great Man long since dead
  it would be a great delight: As to know in what position Shakespeare
  sat when he began 'To be or not to be'--such things become interesting
  from distance of time or place. I hope you are both now in that sweet
  sleep which no two beings deserve more than you do--I must fancy you
  so--and please myself in the fancy of speaking a prayer and a blessing
  over you and your lives--God bless you--I whisper good night in your
  ears and you will dream of me.

This is on the 13th of March. Six days later he gives another picture,
this time of his state of body rather than of mind:--

  This morning I am in a sort of temper, indolent and supremely
  careless--I long after a stanza or two of Thomson's _Castle of
  Indolence_--my passions are all asleep, from my having slumbered till
  nearly eleven, and weakened the animal fibre all over me, to a
  delightful sensation, about three degrees on this side of faintness.
  If I had teeth of pearl and the breath of lilies I should call it
  languor, but as I am I must call it laziness. In this state of
  effeminacy the fibres of the brain are relaxed in common with the rest
  of the body, and to such a happy degree that pleasure has no show of
  enticement and pain no unbearable power. Neither Poetry, nor Ambition,
  nor Love have any alertness of countenance as they pass by me; they
  seem rather like figures on a Greek vase--a Man and two women whom no
  one but myself could distinguish in their disguisement. This is the
  only happiness, and is a rare instance of the advantage of the body
  over-powering the Mind.

[Illustration: PL. IX

'Figures on a Greek vase: a man and two women'

FROM AN ETCHING IN PIRANESI'S VASI E CANDELABRI]

The criticism is foolish which sees in this passage the expression of a
languid, self-indulgent nature, and especially foolish considering the
footnote in which Keats observes that at the moment he has a black eye.
The black eye was no doubt the mark of the fight in which he had lately
well thrashed a young blackguard of a butcher whom he found tormenting a
kitten. That the said fight took place just about this time is clear by
the following evidences. Cowden Clarke, in his recollections
communicated privately to Lord Houghton, writes, 'The last time I saw
Keats was during his residence with Mr Brown. I spent the day with him;
and he read to me the poem he had last finished--_The Eve of St Agnes_.
Shortly after this I removed many miles from London, and was spared the
sorrow of beholding the progress of the disease that was to take him
from us. When I last saw him he was in fine health and spirits; and he
told me that he had, not long before our meeting, had an encounter with
a fellow who was tormenting a kitten, or puppy, and who was big enough
to have eaten him; that they fought for nearly an hour; and that his
opponent was led home.'[7] The reading of the _Eve of St Agnes_ fixes
the date of Clarke's visit as after Keats's return from Chichester at
the end of January, and a remark of Keats, writing to his brother
between February the 14th and 19th, that he has not seen Clarke 'for God
knows how long', further fixes it as after mid-February; while the
latest limit is set by the fact that by Easter Clarke had gone away to
live with his family at Ramsgate, where they had settled after his
father had given up the Enfield school. What the 'effeminacy' passage
really expresses is of course no more than a passing mood of lassitude,
gratefully welcomed as a relief from the strain of feelings habitually
more acute than nature could well bear. Ambition he was schooling, or
trying to school, himself to cherish in moderation, but it was not often
or for long that the stings either of poetry or of love abated for him
the least jot of their bitter-sweet intensity, or that anticipations of
poverty or the fever of incipient disease relaxed their grip.

Though Keats's letters to his brother and sister-in-law contain no
confidence on the subject, some of the verses he encloses betray in
abstract form the strain of passion under which he was living; notably
the fine weird sonnet on a dream which came to him after reading the
Paolo and Francesca passage in Dante, and the other sonnet beginning
'Why did I laugh to-night?' In copying this last, he adds careful and
considerate words of re-assurance lest his brother should take alarm
for his sake:

  I am ever afraid that your anxiety for me will lead you to fear for
  the violence of my temperament continually smothered down: for that
  reason I did not intend to have sent you the following sonnet--but
  Look over the two last pages and ask yourselves whether I have not
  that in me which will bear the buffets of the world. It will be the
  best comment on my sonnet; it will show you that it was written with
  no Agony but that of ignorance; with no thirst of anything but
  Knowledge when pushed to the point though the first steps to it were
  through my human passions--and perhaps I must confess a little bit of
  my heart--

    Why did I laugh to-night? No voice will tell:
      No God, no Demon of severe response
    Deigns to reply from Heaven or from Hell.--
      Then to my human heart I turn at once--
    Heart! thou and I are here sad and alone;
      Say wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain!
    O Darkness! Darkness! ever must I moan
      To question Heaven and Hell and Heart in vain!
    Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease;
      My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads:
    Yet could I on this very midnight cease
      And the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds.
    Verse, fame and Beauty are intense indeed
    But Death intenser--Death is Life's High meed.

  I went to bed and enjoyed uninterrupted sleep. Sane I went to bed and
  sane I arose.

This is yet another of those invocations to friendly Death to which he
himself refers in the _Ode to the Nightingale_ written a few weeks
later, and in its phrase 'on this very midnight cease' anticipates one
of the great lines of the ode itself.

No letter of Keats--or of any one--is richer than this of February to
May 1819 in variety of mood and theme and interest. It contains two of
the freshest and most luminous of his discursive passages of meditation
on life and on the nature of the soul and the meaning of things:
passages showing a native power of thought untrained indeed, but also
unhampered, by academic knowledge and study, and hardly to be surpassed
for their union of steady human common-sense with airy ease and play of
imaginative speculation. In one, starting from reflections on the
unforeseen way in which circumstances, like clouds, gather and burst,
reflections suggested by the expected death of the father of his friend
Haslam, he calls up a series of pictures of the instinctiveness with
which men, like animals,--the hawk, the robin, the stoat, the deer,--go
about their purposes; considers the rarity of the exceptional human
beings whose disinterestedness helps on the progress of the world; and
then turns his thoughts on himself with the comment,--

  Even here, though I myself am pursuing the same instinctive course as
  the veriest human animal you can think of, I am, however young,
  writing at random, straining at particles of light in the midst of a
  great darkness, without knowing the bearing of any one assertion, of
  any one opinion. Yet may I not in this be free from sin? May there not
  be superior beings, amused with any graceful, though instinctive,
  attitude my mind may fall into as I am entertained with the alertness
  of the Stoat or the anxiety of a Deer?

In the other passage he disposes of all Rousseau-Godwin theories of
human perfectibility by a consideration of the physical frame and order
of the world we live in, the flaws and violences which mar and jar it,
and which its human offspring are likely to derive from and share with
it until the end; and, provisionally accepting the doctrine of
immortality, he broaches of his own a scheme of the spiritual discipline
for the sake of which, as he suggests, the life of men on this so
imperfect earth may have been designed.

In marked, not always entirely pleasant contrast with these passages of
thought and beauty Keats sends his brother such things as a summary of a
satiric fairy story of Brown's and an impromptu comic tale of his own in
verse, much in Brown's manner, about a princess, a mule, and a dwarf:
both of them apparently to his mind amusing, but to us rather silly and
the former a little coarse: also some friendly satiric verses of his own
on Brown in the Spenserian stanza. He tells how he has been turning
over the love-letters palmed off by way of hoax upon his brother Tom by
Charles Wells in the character of a pretended 'Amena', and vows fiercely
to make Wells suffer for his heartlessness; gossips further of Dilke and
his overstrained parental anxiety about his boy at school; asks a string
of playful questions about his sister-in-law and her daily doings; and
in another place gives us, in the mention of a casual walk and talk with
Coleridge, the liveliest record we have of the astonishing variety of
matters and mysteries over which that philosopher was capable, in a
short hour's conversation, of ranging without pause or taking breath:--

  Last Sunday I took a walk towards Highgate and in the lane that winds
  by the side of Lord Mansfield's park I met Mr Green our Demonstrator
  at Guy's[8] in conversation with Coleridge--I joined them, after
  enquiring by a look whether it would be agreeable--I walked with him
  at his alderman-after-dinner pace for near two miles I suppose. In
  those two Miles he broached a thousand things--let me see if I can
  give you a list--Nightingales, Poetry--on Poetical
  Sensation--Metaphysics--Different genera and species of
  Dreams--Nightmare--a dream accompanied with a sense of touch--single
  and double touch--a dream related--First and second consciousness--the
  difference explained between will and Volition--so say metaphysicians
  from a want of smoking the second consciousness--Monsters--the
  Kraken--Mermaids--Southey believes in them--Southey's belief too much
  diluted--a Ghost story--Good morning--I heard his voice as he came
  towards me--I heard it as he moved away--I had heard it all the
  interval--if it may be called so. He was civil enough to ask me to
  call on him at Highgate.

It is amusing to note how the time and distance covered by his own
encyclopædic volubility shrank afterwards in Coleridge's memory. In his
_Table Talk_ taken down thirteen years later his account of the meeting
is recorded as follows (with the name of his companion left blank: I
fill it in from Keats's letter): 'A loose, slack, not well-dressed youth
met Mr Green and myself in a lane near Highgate. Green knew him, and
spoke. It was Keats. He was introduced to me, and stayed a minute or
so. After he had left us a little way, he came back, and said, "Let me
carry away the memory, Coleridge, of having pressed your hand!" "There
is death in that hand," I said to Green, when Keats was gone; yet this
was, I believe, before the consumption showed itself distinctly.' The
story of Coleridge's observation after the handshake is no doubt exact:
the 'not well-dressed' in his description of Keats may very well be so
too: but the 'loose' and 'slack' applied to his appearance must have
been drawn from the sage's inward eye, as all accounts are agreed as to
Keats's well-knit compactness of person. One cannot but regret that
Keats failed to follow up the introduction by going, as invited, to see
Coleridge at Highgate: but in all cases save those of Hunt and Haydon,
his contact with distinguished seniors seems thus to have stopped short
at kindly and respectful acquaintance and not to have been pushed to
intimacy.

Another, somewhat divergent, account of the meeting taken down, also
from Coleridge's lips, by Mr John Frere three years earlier has only
lately been published. Its inaccuracy in details is evident, but there
is much sense as well as kindness in Coleridge's remarks on the reviews
and their effect:--

  _C._ Poor Keats, I saw him once. Mr Green, whom you have heard me
  mention, and I were walking out in these parts, and we were overtaken
  by a young man of a very striking countenance whom Mr Green recognised
  and shook hands with, mentioning my name; I wish Mr Green had
  introduced me, for I did not know who it was. He passed on, but in a
  few moments sprung back and said, 'Mr Coleridge, allow me the honour
  of shaking your hand.' I was struck by the energy of his manner, and
  gave him my hand. He passed on and we stood still looking after him,
  when Mr Green said, 'Do you know who that is? That is Keats, the
  poet.' 'Heavens!' said I, 'when I shook him by the hand there was
  death!' This was about two years before he died.

  _F._ But what was it?

  _C._ I cannot describe it. There was a heat and a dampness in the
  hand. To say that his death was caused by the Review is absurd, but at
  the same time it is impossible adequately to conceive the effect
  which it must have had on his mind. It is very well for those who have
  a place in the world and are independent to talk of these things, they
  can bear such a blow, so can those who have a strong religious
  principle; but all men are not born Philosophers, and all men have not
  those advantages of birth and education. Poor Keats had not, and it is
  impossible I say to conceive the effect which such a Review must have
  had upon him, knowing as he did that he had his way to make in the
  world by his own exertions, and conscious of the genius within him.[9]

In the Leigh Hunt circle it had always been the fashion to regard with
contempt, mingled with regret, Wordsworth's more childishly worded poems
and ballads of humble life such as _The Idiot Boy_ and _Alice Fell_. The
announcement of his forthcoming piece, _Peter Bell_, now drew from John
Hamilton Reynolds an anonymous skit in the shape of an adroit and rather
stinging anticipatory parody, which Taylor and Hessey published in the
course of this April despite a strong letter of protest addressed to
them by Coleridge when he heard of their intention: a protest greatly to
his credit considering his and Wordsworth's recent estrangement. Keats
copies for his brother the draft of a notice which at Reynolds's request
he has been writing of this skit for the _Examiner_, taking care to turn
it compatibly with due reverence for the sublimer works of the master
parodied. The thing is quite deftly and tactfully done, and seems to
show that Keats might have made himself, could he have bent his mind to
it, a skilled hand at newspaper criticism. 'You will call it a little
politic,' he says to his brother--'seeing I keep clear of all parties--I
say something for and against both parties--and suit it to the tone of
the _Examiner_--I mean to say I do not unsuit it--and I believe I think
what I say--I am sure I do--I and my conscience are in luck
to-day--which is an excellent thing.'

At intervals throughout these two months Keats asserts and re-asserts
the strength of the hold which idleness has laid upon him so far as
poetry is concerned. Thus on March 13 to his brother and
sister-in-law:--'I know not why poetry and I have been so distant
lately; I must make some advances or she will cut me entirely': and
again to the same on April 15, 'I am still at a standstill in
versifying, I cannot do it yet with any pleasure.' To his young sister
Fanny he had written two days earlier that his idleness had been growing
upon him of late, 'so that it will require a great shake to get rid of
it. I have written nothing and almost read nothing--but I must turn over
a new leaf.' Within the next two weeks the dormant impulse began to
re-awake in him with power. As we have seen, he had never quite stopped
writing personal sonnets. Towards the end of the month we find him
trying, not very successfully, to invent a new sonnet form, but soon
reverting to his accustomed Shakespearean type of three quatrains closed
by a couplet. Here is the better of two sonnets which he wrote on April
30 to express the present abatement of his former hot desire for fame:--

  Fame, like a wayward Girl, will still be coy
    To those who woo her with too slavish knees,
  But makes surrender to some thoughtless Boy,
    And dotes the more upon a heart at ease;
  She is a Gipsy, will not speak to those
    Who have not learnt to be content without her;
  A Jilt, whose ear was never whisper'd close,
    Who thinks they scandal her who talk about her;
  A very Gipsy is she, Nilus-born,
    Sister-in-law to jealous Potiphar;
  Ye love-sick Bards, repay her scorn for scorn,
    Ye Artists lovelorn, madmen that ye are!
  Make your best bow to her and bid adieu,
  Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.

The thought here is curiously anticipated in a passage of Browne's
_Britannia's Pastorals_, itself reminiscent of a well known line in
Theocritus. Is the coincidence a coincidence merely, or had the lines
from Browne been working unconsciously in Keats's mind?

  True Fame is ever liken'd to our shade,
  He sooneth misseth her, that most hath made
  To overtake her; who so takes his wing,
  Regardless of her, she'll be following:
  Her true proprieties she thus discovers,
  'Loves her contemners and contemns her Lovers.'[10]

Two days earlier Keats had copied out in his letter for America, side by
side with the words for a commonplace operatic chorus of the _Fairies of
the Four Elements_, and as though it were of no greater value, that
masterpiece of romantic and tragic symbolism on the wasting power of
Love, _La Belle Dame sans Merci_. This title had already been haunting
Keats's imagination when he wrote the _Eve of St Agnes_. He calls by it
the air to which Porphyro touches his lute beside the sleeping Madeline.
It is the title of a cold allegoric dialogue of the old French court
poet Alan Chartier, which Keats knew in the translation traditionally
ascribed to Chaucer. But except the title, Keats's new poem has nothing
in common with the French or the Chaucerian _Belle Dame_. The form, the
poetic mould, he chooses is that of a ballad of the 'Thomas the Rhymer'
class, in which a mortal passes for a time into the abode and under the
power of a being from the elfin world. Into this mould Keats casts--with
suchlike imagery he invests--all the famine and fever of his private
passion, fusing and alchemising by his art a remembered echo from
William Browne, 'Let no bird sing,' and another from Wordsworth, 'Her
eyes are wild,' into twelve stanzas of a new ballad music vitally his
own and as weirdly ominous and haunting as the music of words can be.
The metrical secret lies in shortening the last line of each stanza from
four feet[11] to two, the two to take in reading the full time of four,
whereby the movement is made one of awed and bodeful slowness--but let
us shrink from the risk of laying an analytic finger upon the methods of
a magic that calls to be felt, not dissected. Known as it is by heart
to all lovers of poetry, I will print the piece again here, partly for
the reason that in some of the most accessible and authoritative recent
editions it is unfortunately given with changes which rob it of half its
magic:--

  O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms
    Alone and palely loitering?
  The sedge is withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing!

  O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms
    So haggard and so woe-begone?
  The squirrel's granary is full,
    And the harvest's done.

  I see a lily on thy brow,
    With anguish moist and fever dew;
  And on thy cheek a fading rose
    Fast withereth too--

  I met a lady in the meads
    Full beautiful, a faery's child;
  Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild--

  I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
  She looked at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan--

  I set her on my pacing steed,
    And nothing else saw all day long;
  For sideways would she lean, and sing
    A faery's song--

  She found me roots of relish sweet,
    And honey wild, and manna dew;
  And sure in language strange she said,
    I love thee true--

  She took me to her elfin grot,
    And there she gazed and sighed full sore,
  And there I shut her wild, wild eyes
    With kisses four.

  And there she lullèd me asleep,
    And there I dreamed, ah woe betide,
  The latest dream I ever dreamed
    On the cold hill side.

  I saw pale kings, and princes too,
     Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
  Who cried--'La Belle Dame sans Merci
     Hath thee in thrall.'

  I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
     With horrid warning gapèd wide,
  And I awoke, and found me here
     On the cold hill side.

  And this is why I sojourn here
     Alone and palely loitering,
  Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing.

Keats of course gives his brother no hint of what to us seems so
manifest, the application of these verses to his own predicament, and
only adds a light and laughing comment on one of the rime-words. Closing
his packet a few days later (May 3) he adds, as the last poem he has
written, the _Ode to Psyche_. He wrote, as is well known, four other
odes this spring, those _On Indolence_, _On a Grecian Urn_, _To a
Nightingale_ and _To Melancholy_. The _Ode to Psyche_ has commonly been
taken to be the latest of the five. I take it, on the contrary, to have
been the first. Had he been ready with any of the others when he
finished his letter, I think he would almost certainly have copied and
sent on one or more of them also. Coupled with his re-iterated assertion
of complete poetic idleness,--'the idle fever of two months without any
fruit,'--lasting from mid-February until well past mid-April, the
absence of all the four other odes from this packet must count as
evidence that the _Ode to Psyche_ represents the first wave of a new
tide of inspiration--inspiration this time not narrative and creative
but lyric and meditative--and that the rest of the odes followed and
were composed in the course of May. Personally I am convinced that this
was the case. I make no exception in regard to the ode _On Indolence_,
although, seeing that it embodies just such a relaxed mood of mind and
body as we have found recorded by Keats in his letter to his brother
under date March 19, and embodies it with the self-same imagery, it is
usually assumed to have been written at or very nearly about the same
date. But Keats in the ode itself expressly tells us otherwise, calling
his mood at the hour of writing one of 'summer indolence' and defining
the season as May-time, when the outdoor vines are newly bursting into
leaf. Of course, it may be answered, a poet writing in March may
perfectly well choose to advance the season to May by a poetic fiction.
But would Keats in this case have felt any need or impulse to do so? I
doubt it. Moreover a reference to the poem by Keats in a letter of early
June shows that phrases of it were still hanging freshly in his memory
and seems to imply that it was a thing then lately written. What
happened, I take it, was either that Keats let the March vision, with
its imagery of symbolic figures following one another as on a Greek
sculptured urn, ripen in his mind until he was ready to compose upon it,
and then attributed the vision itself to the season when he was actually
putting it into verse; or else that, having fallen some time in May into
a second mood of drowsiness and relaxation nearly repeating that of
March, the same imagery for its expression arose naturally again in his
mind.

The ode _On a Grecian Urn_ is obviously of kindred, and probably of
contemporary, inspiration with that _On Indolence_, and if the one
belongs to May so doubtless does the other. That this is true of the
Nightingale ode we know. Some time early in May, nightingales heard both
in the Wentworth Place garden and in the grove beside the Spaniards inn
at the upper end of the heath set Keats brooding on the contrast between
the age-long permanence of that bird-song, older than history, and the
fleeting lives of the generations of men that have listened to it; and
one morning he took his chair out under a plum-tree in the garden and
wrote down the immortal verses, in and out and back and forth on a
couple of loose sheets which Brown, two hours after seeing him go out,
found him folding away carelessly behind some books in his room. This
discovery, says Brown, made him search for more such neglected scraps;
and Keats acquiesced in the search, and moreover gave Brown leave to
make copies of anything he might find.[12] Haydon tells how Keats
recited the new ode to him, 'in his low, tremulous under-tone,' as they
walked together in the Hampstead meadows; and it was no doubt on
Haydon's suggestion that Keats let James Elmes, a subservient ally of
Haydon's in all his battles with the academic powers, have it for
publication in his periodical, the _Annals of the Fine Arts_, during the
following July. For the date of the _Ode on Melancholy_ the clues are
less definite. Burton's _Anatomy_ has clearly to do with inspiring it,
but of this, and especially of the sections on the cure of
Love-Melancholy, Keats's letters and some of his verses furnish evidence
that he had been much of a reader all the spring. Particular phrases,
however, in letters of May and early June expressing a very similar
strain of feeling to that of the ode, besides its general resemblance to
the rest of the group both as to form and mood, may be taken as
approximately dating it.

Following these so fruitful labours (if I am right as to the dates) of
May, came a month of strained indecision and anxiety during which Keats
again could do no work. Questions of his own fortune and future were
weighing heavily on his mind. For the time being he could not touch such
small remainder of his grandmother's legacy as was still unexpended. A
lawsuit threatened by the widow of his uncle Captain Jennings against
his guardian Mr Abbey, in connexion with the administration of the
trust, had had the effect for the time being of stopping his supplies
from that quarter altogether. Thereupon he very gently asked Haydon to
make an effort to repay his recent loan; who not only made none--'he did
not,' says Keats, 'seem to care much about it, but let me go without my
money almost with nonchalance.' This was too much even for Keats's
patience, and he declares that he shall never count Haydon a friend
again. Nevertheless he by and by let old affection resume its sway, and
entered into the other's interests and endured his exhortations as
kindly as ever. Apart from Mrs Jennings's bequest, there was a not
inconsiderable sum which, as we know, had been left invested by Mr
Jennings for the direct benefit of his Keats grandchildren; but this sum
could not be divided until Fanny Keats came of age, and there seems to
have been no thought of John's anticipating his reversionary share.
Indeed it is doubtful if the very existence of these and other funds
lying by for them had not at this time been forgotten.[13]

In this predicament Keats began very seriously to entertain the idea,
which we have seen broached by him several times already, of seeking the
post of surgeon on an East Indiaman as at least a temporary means of
livelihood. He mentions the idea not only to George and to his young
sister, but he debates it with a new correspondent, one of the Miss
Jeffrey's of Teignmouth, whom he suddenly now addresses in terms of
confidence which show how warm must have been their temporary friendship
the year before:--

  Your advice about the Indiaman is a very wise advice, because it just
  suits me, though you are a little in the wrong concerning its
  destroying the energies of Mind: on the contrary it would be the
  finest thing in the world to strengthen them--to be thrown among
  people who care not for you, with whom you have no sympathies forces
  the Mind upon its own resources, and leaves it free to make its
  speculations of the differences of human character and to class them
  with the calmness of a Botanist. An Indiaman is a little world. One of
  the great reasons that the English have produced the finest writers in
  the world is, that the English world has ill-treated them during their
  lives and foster'd them after their deaths. They have in general been
  trampled aside into the bye paths of life and seen the festerings of
  Society. They have not been treated like the Raphaels of Italy. And
  where is the Englishman and Poet who has given a magnificent
  Entertainment at the christening of one of his Hero's Horses as
  Boyardo did? He had a Castle in the Appenine. He was a noble Poet of
  Romance; not a miserable and mighty Poet of the human heart. The
  middle age of Shakespeare was all clouded over; his days were not more
  happy than Hamlet's who is perhaps more like Shakespeare himself in
  his common every day Life than any other of his Characters--Ben
  Johnson was a common Soldier and in the Low Countries in the face of
  two armies, fought a single combat with a French Trooper and slew
  him--For all this I will not go on board an Indiaman, nor for
  example's sake run my head into dark alleys: I daresay my discipline
  is to come, and plenty of it too. I have been very idle lately, very
  averse to writing; both from the overpowering idea of our dead poets
  and from abatement of my love of fame. I hope I am a little more of a
  Philosopher than I was, consequently a little less of a versifying
  Pet-lamb. I have put no more in Print or you should have had it. You
  will judge of my 1819 temper when I tell you that the thing I have
  most enjoyed this year has been writing an ode to Indolence.

The reader will have noticed in the phrase about 'versifying Pet-lamb' a
repetition from this very ode _On Indolence_. Here is another confidence
imparted to the same correspondent concerning his present mood and
disposition:--

  I have been always till now almost as careless of the world as a
  fly--my troubles were all of the Imagination--My brother George always
  stood between me and any dealings with the world. Now I find I must
  buffet it--I must take my stand upon some vantage ground and begin to
  fight--I must choose between despair and Energy--I choose the latter
  though the world has taken on a quakerish look with me, which I once
  thought was impossible--

    'Nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendour in the grass and glory in the flower.'

  I once thought this a Melancholist's dream.

His immediate object in writing had been to ask, in case he should
decide against the Indiaman project and in favour of another attempt at
the literary life, for the address of a cheap lodging somewhere in the
Teign valley, the beauties of which, seen in glimpses through the rain,
he had sung in some doggrel stanzas the year before. Brown, more than
ever impressed during these last months with the power and promise of
his friend's genius, was dead against the Indiaman scheme and in the end
persuaded Keats to accept an advance of money for his present needs and
to devote the summer to work in the country. Part of such work was to be
upon a tragedy to be written by the two in collaboration and on a basis
of half profits. Brown had not less belief in Keats's future than
affection for his person, and it was the two combined that made him
ready and eager, as he frankly told Keats, to sail in the same boat with
him. In the end the Devonshire idea gave place to a new plan, that of
joining the invalid James Rice for a stay at Shanklin. 'I have given up
the idea of the Indiaman', Keats writes to his young sister on June 9;
'I cannot resolve to give up my favourite studies: so I propose to
retire once more. A friend of Mine who has an ill state of health called
on me yesterday and proposed to spend a little time with him at the back
of the Isle of Wight where he said we might live cheaply. I agreed to
his proposal.'


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Later occupants re-named the place Lawn Bank and threw the two
    semi-detached houses into one, making alterations and additions the
    exact nature of which were pointed out to me in 1885 by Mr William
    Dilke, the then surviving brother of Keats's friend. This gentleman
    also showed me a house across the road which he himself had built in
    early life, occupied for a while, and then let on a sixty years'
    lease: 'which lease,' he added, as though to outlive a sixty years'
    agreement contracted at thirty were the most ordinary occurrence in
    the world, 'fell in a year or two ago.' He died shortly afterwards,
    aged 93. He and Mrs Procter, the widow of Barry Cornwall the
    poet--staunchest, wittiest, and youngest-hearted defier of Time that
    she was--were the only two persons I have known and spoken to who had
    known and spoken to Keats.

  [2] The only set of engravings existing in Keats's time after
    pictures at Milan was the Raccolta, etc., of G. Zanconi (1813), which
    gives only panels and canvases by masters of the full Renaissance in
    private collections.

  [3] The fullest and, it must be said, least favourable account we
    have of her is in the retrospect of a cousin who had frequented her
    mother's house as a young boy about 1819-20, and seventy years later
    gave his impressions as follows (_New York Herald_, April 12, 1889).
    'Miss Fanny Brawne was very fond of admiration. I do not think she
    cared for Keats, although she was engaged to him. She was very much
    affected when he died, because she had treated him so badly. She was
    very fond of dancing, and of going to the opera and to balls and
    parties. Miss Brawne's mother had an extensive acquaintance with
    gentlemen, and the society in which they mingled was musical and
    literary. Through the Dilkes, Miss Brawne was invited out a great
    deal, and as Keats was not in robust health enough to take her out
    himself (for he never went with her), she used to go with military
    men to the Woolwich balls and to balls in Hampstead; and she used to
    dance with these military officers a great deal more than Keats
    liked. She did not seem to care much for him. Mr Dilke, the
    grandfather of the present Sir Charles Dilke, admired her very much
    in society, and although she was not a great beauty she was very
    lively and agreeable. I remember that among those frequenting Mrs
    Brawne's house in Hampstead were a number of foreign gentlemen. Keats
    could not talk French as they could, and their conversation with his
    fiancée in a language he could not understand was a source of
    continual disagreement between them. Keats thought that she talked
    and flirted and danced too much with them, but his remonstrances were
    all unheeded by Miss Brawne.' Against these impressions should be set
    Brown's testimony, contained in letters of the time to Severn and
    others, to her signs of acute distress on the news coming from Italy
    of the hopelessness of her lover's condition and finally of his
    death: and stronger still, her own words written in later years to
    Medwin, which seem to show a true, and even tender, understanding of
    his character if not of his genius (see below p. 465).

  [4]
      [Greek: eros d' aute m' ho lysimelês donei
      glykypikron amachanon orpeton.]--Sappho, Fr. 40.

  [5] There is no autograph of this ode, only transcripts by friends,
    and Mr Buxton Forman was most likely right in suggesting that the
    true reading for 'not' should be 'out.'

  [6] Keats was staying that night and two more at Mr Taylor's in
    London: but there is nothing against my theory in this: he might have
    composed the sonnet as well in Fleet Street as at Hampstead.

  [7] In his printed account of the matter Clarke calls the victim
    definitely a kitten, and says of Keats: 'He thought he should be
    beaten, for the fellow was the taller and stronger; but like an
    authentic pugilist, my young poet found that he had planted a blow
    which "told" upon his antagonist; in every succeeding round therefore
    (for they fought nearly an hour), he never failed of returning to the
    weak point, and the contest ended in the hulk being led home.'

  [8] Joseph Henry Green, afterwards F.R.S. and Professor of Anatomy to
    the Royal Academy; distinguished alike as a teacher in his own
    profession and as a disciple and interpreter of Coleridge's
    philosophy.

  [9] _Cornhill Magazine_, April 1917: 'A Talk with Coleridge,' edited
    by Miss E. M. Green.

  [10] [Greek: kai pheùgei philéonta kai où philéonta diôkei.] Theocr.
    Idyll. vi. 27.

  [11] I use the foot nomenclature for convenience, because to count by
    stresses seems to make the point less immediately clear, while to
    count by syllables would involve pointing out that in the last lines
    of stanzas ii, iv, ix and xi the movement is varied by resolving the
    light first syllable into two that take the time of one.

  [12] Brown, writing many years after the events, must be a little out
    here, seeing that already on April 30th Keats tells his brother that
    Brown is busy 'rummaging out his Keats's old sins, that is to say
    sonnets.' (Note that Keats mentions no odes). Brown is in like manner
    wrong in remembering the draft of the Nightingale ode as written on
    'four or five scraps' when it was in fact written on two, as became
    apparent when it appeared in the market thirteen years ago (see
    _Monthly Review_, March 1903). It is now in the collection of Lord
    Crewe.

  [13] When in 1823-4 their existence was disclosed and they were
    divided on the order of the Court of Chancery between George Keats
    and his sister, they amounted with accumulations of interest to a
    little over £4500.



CHAPTER XII

JUNE 1819-JANUARY 1820: SHANKLIN, WINCHESTER, HAMPSTEAD: TROUBLE AND
HEALTH FAILURE

  Work on _Otho_ and _Lamia_--Letters to Fanny Brawne--Keats as
  lover--An imagined future--Change to Winchester--Work and fine
  weather--Ill news from George--A run to town--A talk with
  Woodhouse--Woodhouse as critic--Alone at Winchester--Spirited letters:
  to his brother--To Reynolds, Brown, and Dilke--Hopes and
  resolutions--Will work for the press--Attempt and breakdown--Return to
  Wentworth Place--Morning and evening tasks--Cries of passion--Signs of
  despondency--Testimony of Brown--Haydon's exaggerations--Schemes and
  doings--Visit of George Keats--Pleasantry and bitterness--Beginning of
  the end.


By the last days of June Keats was settled with Rice in the village of
Shanklin, in a lodging above the cliff and a little way back from the
sea,[1] and forthwith got to work upon a new poetical romance, _Lamia_,
at which he seems to have made some beginning before he left Hampstead.
He found the subject, that of the enchantress of Corinth who under her
woman's guise was really a serpent, in Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_,
a book in these days often in his hands, and for the form of his
narrative chose rimed heroics, only this time leaning on Dryden as his
model instead of the Elizabethans.

Rice's health was at this time worse than ever, and Keats himself was
far from well; his throat chronically sore, his nerves unstrung, his
heart, in despite of distance, knowing little rest from agitation
between the pains and joys of love. As long as Rice and he were alone
together at Shanklin, the two ailing and anxious men, fast friends as
they were, depressed and did each other harm. Things went better when
Brown with his settled good health and good spirits came to join them.
Soon afterwards Rice left, and Brown and Keats then got to work
diligently at the joint task they had set themselves, that of writing a
tragedy suitable for the stage. What struggling man or woman of letters
has not at one time or another shared the hope which animated them, that
this way lay the road to success and competence? Brown, whose opera
_Narensky_ had made a hit in its day, and brought him in a sum variously
stated at £300 or £500, was supposed to possess the requisite stage
experience. To him were assigned the plot and construction of the play,
for which he was to receive half profits in the event of success, while
Keats undertook to compose the dialogue. The subject was one taken from
the history of the Emperor Otho the Great. The two friends sat opposite
each other at the same table, and Keats wrote scene after scene as Brown
sketched it out to him, in each case without enquiring what was to come
next. The collaboration of genius and mediocrity rarely succeeds, and it
seems hard to conceive a more unpromising mode of it than this. Besides
the work by means of which Keats thus hoped, at least in sanguine hours,
to find an escape from material difficulties, he was busily engaged
working by himself on _Lamia_. But a cloud of depression continued to
hang over him. The climate of Shanklin was against him: the quarter
where they lodged lay screened by hills except from the south-east,
whence, as he afterwards wrote, 'came the damps of the sea, which having
no egress, the air would for days together take on an unhealthy
idiosyncrasy altogether enervating and weakening as a city smoke.' After
a stay of some six weeks, Keats consequently made up his mind to move
with Brown to the more bracing air of Winchester.

From these weeks at Shanklin date the earliest of the preserved series
of Keats's love-letters to Fanny Brawne. More than any man, more
certainly than any other unripe youth fretting in the high fever of an
unhopeful love, Keats has had to pay the penalty of genius in the loss
of posthumous privacy for the most sacred and secret of his emotions. He
thought his name would be forgotten, but posterity in an excess of
remembrance has suffered no corner of his soul to escape the
searchlight. Once preserved and printed, these love-letters of his
cannot be ignored. Unselfish through and through, and naturally
well-conditioned in all thoughts and feelings over which he had control,
he strives hard in them to keep to a vein of considerate tenderness, and
the earlier letters of the series contain charming passages. But often,
more often indeed than not even from the first, they show him a prey,
despite his best efforts to master himself and be reasonable, to an
uncontrollable intensity and fretfulness of passion. Now that experience
of love had come to him, it belied instead of confirming the view he had
expressed in _Isabella_ that too much pity has been spent on the sorrows
of lovers, and that

                --for the general award of love
  The little sweet doth kill much bitterness.

In his own passion there was from the first, and increasingly as time
went on, at least as much of bitterness as of sweet. An enraptured but
an untrustful lover, alternately rejoicing and chafing at his bondage
and passing through a hundred conflicting extremes of feeling in an
hour, he finds in the fever of work and composition his only antidote
against the fever of his love-sickness. This is written soon after his
arrival at Shanklin:--

  I am glad I had not an opportunity of sending off a Letter which I
  wrote for you on Tuesday night--'twas too much like one out of
  Rousseau's _Heloise_. I am more reasonable this morning. The morning
  is the only proper time for me to write to a beautiful Girl whom I
  love so much: for at night, when the lonely day has closed, and the
  lonely, silent, unmusical Chamber is waiting to receive me as into a
  Sepulchre, then believe me my passion gets entirely the sway, then I
  would not have you see those Rhapsodies which I once thought it
  impossible I should ever give way to, and which I have often laughed
  at in another, for fear you should think me either too unhappy or
  perhaps a little mad. I am now at a very pleasant Cottage window,
  looking onto a beautiful hilly country, with a glimpse of the sea; the
  morning is very fine. I do not know how elastic my spirit might be,
  what pleasure I might have in living here and breathing and wandering
  as free as a stag about this beautiful Coast if the remembrance of you
  did not weigh so upon me. I have never known any unalloy'd Happiness
  for many days together: the death or sickness of some one has always
  spoilt my hours--and now when none such troubles oppress me, it is you
  must confess very hard that another sort of pain should haunt me. Ask
  yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so
  entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom.

A fortnight later he manages to write a little more at ease of himself,
his moods, and his doings:--

  Do not call it folly, when I tell you I took your letter last night to
  bed with me. In the morning I found your name on the sealing wax
  obliterated. I was startled at the bad omen till I recollected that it
  must have happened in my dreams, and they you know fall out by
  contraries. You must have found out by this time I am a little given
  to bode ill like the raven; it is my misfortune not my fault; it has
  proceeded from the general tenor of the circumstances of my life, and
  rendered every event suspicious. However I will no more trouble either
  you or myself with sad Prophecies; though so far I am pleased at it as
  it has given me opportunity to love your disinterestedness towards me.
  I cannot say when I shall get a volume ready. I have three or four
  stories half done, but as I cannot write for the mere sake of the
  press, I am obliged to let them progress or lie still as my fancy
  chooses. By Christmas perhaps they may appear, but I am not yet sure
  they ever will. 'Twill be no matter, for Poems are as common as
  newspapers and I do not see why it is a greater crime in me than in
  another to let the verses of an half-fledged brain tumble into the
  reading-rooms and drawing-room windows.... To-morrow I shall, if my
  health continues to improve during the night, take a look farther
  about the country, and spy at the parties about here who come hunting
  after the picturesque like beagles. It is astonishing how they raven
  down scenery like children do sweetmeats. The wondrous Chine here is a
  very great Lion: I wish I had as many guineas as there have been
  spy-glasses in it.

Yet another fortnight, and we find him uttering aloud the same yearning
to attain the double goal of love and death together as he had often
uttered to himself in secret since he came under the spell. On another
day, letting his imagination comply with the longing for Alpine travel
and seclusion which since Rousseau had been one of the romantic fashions
of the time, he draws her a picture of an imagined future for herself
and him which, judging at least by her choice of pleasures until now,
would ill have stood the test of reality:--

  You would delight very greatly in the walks about here; the Cliffs,
  woods, hills, sands, rocks, etc., about here. They are however not so
  fine but I shall give them a hearty goodbye to exchange them for my
  Cathedral.--Yet again I am not so tired of Scenery as to hate
  Switzerland. We might spend a pleasant year at Berne or Zurich--if it
  should please Venus to hear my 'Beseech thee to hear us O Goddess.'
  And if she should hear, God forbid we should what people call,
  _settle_--turn into a pond, a stagnant Lethe--a vile crescent, row or
  buildings. Better be imprudent moveables than prudent fixtures. Open
  my Mouth at the Street door like the Lion's head at Venice to receive
  hateful cards, letters, messages. Go out and wither at tea parties;
  freeze at dinners; bake at dances; simmer at routs. No my love, trust
  yourself to me and I will find you nobler amusements, fortune
  favouring.

The most sanely self-revealing and pleasant passages in the
correspondence occur in a letter written in the second week after Keats
and Brown had settled at Winchester:--

  I see you through a Mist: as I daresay you do me by this time. Believe
  me in the first Letters I wrote you: I assure you I felt as I wrote--I
  could not write so now. The thousand images I have had pass through my
  brain--my uneasy spirits--my unguess'd fate--all spread as a veil
  between me and you. Remember I have had no idle leisure to brood over
  you.--'tis well perhaps I have not. I could not have endured the
  throng of jealousies that used to haunt me before I had plunged so
  deeply into imaginary interests. I would fain, as my sails are set,
  sail on without an interruption for a Brace of Months longer--I am in
  complete cue--in the fever; and shall in these four Months do an
  immense deal. This Page as my eye skims over it I see is excessively
  unloverlike and ungallant--I cannot help it--I am no officer in
  yawning quarters; no Parson-romeo.... 'Tis harsh, harsh, I know it. My
  heart seems now made of iron--I could not write a proper answer to an
  invitation to Idalia.... This Winchester is a fine place: a beautiful
  Cathedral and many other ancient buildings in the Environs. The little
  coffin of a room at Shanklin is changed for a large room, where I can
  promenade at my pleasure.... One of the pleasantest things I have seen
  lately was at Cowes. The Regent in his Yatch (I think they spell it)
  was anchored opposite--a beautiful vessel--and all the Yatchs and
  boats on the coast were passing and repassing it; and circuiting and
  tacking about it in every direction--I never beheld anything so
  silent, light, and graceful.--As we pass'd over to Southampton, there
  was nearly an accident. There came by a Boat, well mann'd, with two
  naval officers at the stern. Our Bow-lines took the top of their
  little mast and snapped it off close by the board. Had the mast been a
  little stouter they would have been upset. In so trifling an event I
  could not help admiring our seamen--neither officer nor man in the
  whole Boat mov'd a muscle--they scarcely notic'd it even with words.
  Forgive me for this flint-worded Letter, and believe and see that I
  cannot think of you without some sort of energy--though mal à propos.
  Even as I leave off it seems to me that a few more moments' thought of
  you would uncrystallize and dissolve me. I must not give way to
  it--but turn to my writing again--if I fail I shall die hard. O my
  love, your lips are growing sweet again to my fancy--I must forget
  them.

The old cathedral city of Winchester, with its peaceful closes breathing
antiquity, its hurrying limpid chalk-streams and beautiful elm-shadowed
meadow walks, and the tonic climate of its surrounding downs, 'where the
air,' he writes, 'is worth sixpence a pint,' exactly suited Keats, and
he quickly improved both in health and spirits. The days he spent here,
from the middle of August to the second week of October, were the last
good days of his life. Working with a steady intensity of application,
he managed, as the last extract shows, to steel himself for the time
being against the importunity of his passion, although never without a
certain feverishness in the effort, and to keep the thought of money
troubles at bay by buoying himself up with the firm hope of a stage
success. His work continued to be chiefly on _Lamia_, with the
concluding part of _Otho_, and the beginning of a new tragedy on the
story of King Stephen. In the last act of _Otho_ and the opening scenes
(which are all he did) of _King Stephen_ he laboured alone, without
accepting help from Brown. On the 25th of August he writes to Reynolds,
as usual more gravely and openly than to any other correspondent, of his
present feelings in regard to life and literature.

  The more I know what my diligence may in time probably effect, the
  more does my heart distend with Pride and Obstinacy[2]--I feel it in
  my power to become a popular writer--I feel it in my power to refuse
  the poisonous suffrage of a public. My own being which I know to be
  becomes of more consequence to me than the crowds of Shadows in the
  shape of men and women that inhabit a kingdom. The soul is a world of
  itself, and has enough to do in its own home. Those whom I know
  already, and who have grown as it were a part of myself, I could not
  do without: but for the rest of mankind, they are as much a dream to
  me as Milton's Hierarchies. I think if I had a free and healthy and
  lasting organization of heart, and lungs as strong as an ox's, so as
  to be able to bear unhurt the shock of extreme thought and sensation
  without weariness, I could pass my life very nearly alone though it
  should last eighty years. But I feel my body too weak to support me to
  the height, I am obliged continually to check myself, and be nothing.

A letter to his young sister of three days later is in quite another
key, but one of wholesome and unforced high spirits:--

  The delightful Weather we have had for two Months is the highest
  gratification I could receive--no chill'd red noses--no
  shivering--but fair atmosphere to think in--a clean towel mark'd with
  the mangle and a basin of clear Water to drench one's face with ten
  times a day: no need of much exercise--a Mile a day being quite
  sufficient. My greatest regret is that I have not been well enough to
  bathe though I have been two Months by the sea side and live now close
  to delicious bathing--Still I enjoy the Weather--I adore fine Weather
  as the greatest blessing I can have.... I should like now to promenade
  round your Gardens--apple-tasting--pear-tasting--plum-judging--apricot
  nibbling--peach-scrunching--nectarine-sucking and Melon-carving. I
  have also a great feeling for antiquated cherries full of sugar
  cracks--and a white currant tree kept for company. I admire lolling on
  a lawn by a water lillied pond to eat white currants and see gold
  fish: and go to the Fair in the Evening if I'm good. There is not hope
  for that--one is sure to get into some mess before evening.

A week later (September 5) he discourses pleasantly to Taylor on the
virtues and drawbacks of different kinds of country air and on the
effects of field labour on the character; and by way of a specimen of
his work sends a passage of thirty lines from _Lamia_. By this time
Brown had gone off to visit friends at Bedhampton and elsewhere, and
Keats was left alone at Winchester. Presently came a disturbing letter
from George, established by this time at the then remote trading
settlement of Louisville, Ohio, and in difficulties from a heavy loss
incurred through a venture into which he had been led, dishonestly as he
believed, by the naturalist Audubon. He asks in consequence that Abbey
should be pressed to send him the share due to him from their brother
Tom's estate. This could only be done if their aunt Jennings could be
persuaded to free Abbey's hands by dropping her threatened Chancery
suit. Hurrying to London to try and put this business through, Keats
stayed there three days (Septr. 10-13), but dared not break his serenity
by sight or touch of his enchantress. In a note to her he writes, 'I
love you too much to venture to Hampstead, I feel it is not paying a
visit, but venturing into a fire.... I am a Coward, I cannot bear the
pain of being happy, 'tis out of the question; I must admit no thought
of it.' He found few of his friends in town; dined with the Wylies, the
family of his sister-in-law; and had much talk with Mr Abbey, who seemed
inclined to dangle before him some prospect of employment in the
hatter's business which he combined with his tea-dealing, and read to
him with approval a passage from _Don Juan_ ('Lord Byron's last flash
poem,' says Keats) against literary ambition. He went to see his sister
Fanny at Walthamstow, passed some time with Rice, and had a long six
hours' talk with Woodhouse: of this Keats's own letters make no mention,
but Woodhouse's account of it, written a week later to Taylor, has been
preserved and is curiously interesting.[3]

Keats, warm from the composition of _Lamia_, had had an impulse to
publish it immediately, together with the _Eve of St Agnes_, but the
publishers had thought the time inopportune. Woodhouse asked why not
_Isabella_ too? and Keats answered that he could not bear that poem now
and thought it mawkish. Whereupon Woodhouse makes the judicious comment:
'this certainly cannot be so, the feeling is very likely to come across
an author on review of a former work of his own, particularly when the
object of his present meditations is of a more sober and unimpassioned
character. The feeling of mawkishness seems to me that which comes upon
us when anything of great tenderness and simplicity is met with when we
are not in a sufficiently tender and simple frame of mind to hear it:
when we experience a sort of revulsion or resiliency (if there be such a
word) from the sentiment or expression.' Keats, full of _Lamia_, read it
out to his friend, who comments: 'I am much pleased with it. I can use
no other terms for you know how badly he reads his own poetry.' (Other
witnesses on the contrary tell of the thrilling effect of Keats's
reading--a reading which was half chanting, 'in a low, tremulous
undertone'--of his own work.) 'And you know,' continues Woodhouse, 'how
slow I am to catch the effect of poetry read by the best reader for the
first time.' Nevertheless he is able to give his correspondent a quite
accurate sketch of the plot, and adds, 'you may suppose all these events
have given K. scope for some beautiful poetry, which even in this
cursory hearing of it, came every now and then upon me and made me
"start, as tho' a sea-nymph quired."'

The talk turning to the _Eve of St Agnes_, Keats showed Woodhouse some
changes he had just made in recopying it. One of these introduced a
slight but disfiguring note of cynical realism or 'pettish disgust' into
the concluding lines telling of the deaths of old Angela and the
beadsman, and is the first sign we find of that inclination to mix a
worldly would-be Don Juanish vein with romance which was soon to appear
so disastrously in the _Cap and Bells_. The other change was to make it
clear that the melting of Porphyro into Madeline's dream, at the
enchanted climax of the poem, implied love's full fruition between them
then and there. At this point Woodhouse's prudery took alarm. He pleaded
against the change vehemently, and Keats to tease him still more
vehemently defended it, vowing that his own and his hero's character for
virility required the new reading, and that he did not write for misses.
The correct and excellent Woodhouse, scandalized though he somewhat was
by what he calls his friend's 'rhodomontade,' declares that they had a
delightful time together. He was leaving London the same afternoon for
Weymouth, and Keats came to the coach-office to see him off. At parting
they each promised to mend their ways in the matter of letter-writing,
Keats holding out the hope, which was not fulfilled, of a rimed epistle
to follow. Woodhouse tells how, being the only inside passenger in the
coach, he 'amused himself by diving into a deep reverie, and recalling
all that had passed during the six hours we were _tête à tête_.'

Such touches of over-sensitive prudery set aside, the more light we get
on this friend of Keats, Richard Woodhouse, the higher grows our esteem
both for his character and judgment. In other extant letters to Taylor
of this date, he comments with fine insight on Keats's own confessions
of secret pride and obstinacy, and on his vice ('for a vice in a poor
man it is') of lending more than he could afford to friends in need. And
what can be more sagacious than the following, from a letter of
Woodhouse to a lady cousin of his own?--

  You were so flattered as to say the other day, you wished I had been
  in a company where you were, to defend Keats.--In all places, and at
  all times, and before all persons, I would express and as far as I am
  able, support, my high opinion of his poetical merits--such a genius,
  I verily believe, has not appeared since Shakspeare and Milton.... But
  in our common conversation upon his merits, we should always bear in
  mind that his fame may be more hurt by indiscriminate praise than by
  wholesale censure. I would at once admit that he has great
  faults--enough indeed to sink another writer. But they are more than
  counter-balanced by his beauties: and this is the proper mode of
  appreciating an original genius. His faults will wear away--his fire
  will be chastened--and then eyes will do homage to his brilliancy. But
  genius is wayward, trembling, easily daunted. And shall we not excuse
  the errors, the luxuriancy of youth? Are we to expect that poets are
  to be given to the world, as our first parents were, in a state of
  maturity? Are they to have no season of childhood? are they to have no
  room to try their wings before the steadiness and strength of their
  flight are to be finally judged of?... Now, while Keats is unknown,
  unheeded, despised of one of our arch-critics, neglected by the
  rest--in the teeth of the world, and in the face of 'these curious
  days,' I express my conviction, that Keats, during his life (if it
  please God to spare him to the usual age of man, and the critics not
  to drive him from the free air of the Poetic heaven before his Wings
  are fully fledged) will rank on a level with the best of the last or
  of the present generation: and after his death will take his place at
  their head. But, while I think thus, I would make persons respect my
  judgment by the discrimination of my praise, and by the freedom of my
  censure where his writings are open to it. These are the Elements of
  true criticism. It is easy, like Momus, to find fault with the
  clattering of the slipper worn by the Goddess of beauty; but 'the
  serious Gods' found better employment in admiration of her
  unapproachable loveliness. A Poet ought to write for Posterity. But a
  critic ought to do so too.

By September 14 Keats was back at Winchester, where during the next
three weeks he had a chance of testing his capacity for solitude. He
seems to have looked at _Hyperion_ again, but made up his mind to go no
farther with it, having got to feel its style too latinized and
Miltonic. A very few weeks before, in August, he had written to two
different correspondents that _Paradise Lost_ was becoming every day a
greater wonder to him. Now, in the third week of September he had come
to regard it, 'though so fine itself,' as a 'corruption of our
language,' a case of 'a northern dialect accommodating itself to Greek
and Latin inversions and intonations;' and had convinced himself,
paradoxically, that the purest English was Chatterton's,--which is in
truth no right English at all, but the attempt of a brilliant
self-taught boy to forge himself a fifteenth-century style by gathering
miscellaneous half-understood archaisms out of dictionaries and
stringing them in fluent stanzas of Spenserian, or post-Spenserian,
rhythm and syntax. But it was probably not of Chatterton's vocabulary
that Keats was thinking, but rather of the unartificial, straightforward
flow of his verse in contrast with Milton's. The apparent suddenness of
Keats's change of mind on this matter is characteristic, like his quite
unjust return upon himself in regard to _Isabella_, of what Haydon calls
his lack of decisions and fixity of aim:--'One day he was full of an
epic poem; the next day epic poems were splendid impositions on the
world. Never for two days did he know his own intentions.' By these
words, to be taken with the usual discount, Haydon means the same thing
as Keats means himself when he speaks of his 'unsteady and vagarish
disposition'; let us rather say his sensitive and receptive openness of
mind to contradictory impressions, even on questions of that art of
which he had become so fine a master, and withal his habit of complete
surrender to whatever was the dominant impression of the moment.

With reference to his other occupations of the hour,--_Lamia_ he had
finished, and for the present he did no more to _King Stephen_.
Realizing the low repute into which critical derision had brought him as
a member of the Cockney School, he proposed to withhold his next volume
of poems in hope that the production of _Otho the Great_ at Drury Lane
in the autumn might, if successful, create a more favourable atmosphere
for its reception; and was in consequence seriously dashed when he
learnt that Kean was on the point of starting for America. One of his
chief present pursuits was studying Italian in the pages of Ariosto. The
wholesome brightness of an unusually fine season continuing to sustain
and soothe him, he wrote the last, most unclouded and serenely
accomplished of his meditative odes, that _To Autumn_. A sudden return
of the epistolary mood came upon him, and between September 17th and
27th he poured himself out to his brother and sister-in-law in a new
long journal-letter, full of confidences on every subject that dwelt in
or flitted through his mind except the one master-subject of the passion
he was striving to keep subdued by absence. 'I am inclined,' he says,
'to write a good deal; for there can be nothing so remembrancing and
enchaining as a good long letter, be it composed of what it may.'

Accordingly he ranges as usual over all manner of miscellaneous themes,
discussing his own and his brother's situation and future; telling of
Haydon and his inconsiderate behaviour about the loan, and of Dilke's
political dogmatism and over-anxiety about his boy; giving accounts of
the several members of the Hampstead circle, mixed up with playful
messages to his sister-in-law, whom he represents as caring nothing for
these tiresome people and interrupting her husband's reading of the
letter to insist on prattling about her baby. He adds anecdotes of his
visit to her family in London, and à propos of babies tells of a thing
he had heard Charles Lamb say. 'A child in arms was passing by his chair
toward its mother, in the nurse's arms. Lamb took hold of the long
clothes, saying: "Where, God bless me, where does it leave off?"' With
an unexpressed shaft of inward mockery at his own plight, he describes
the ridiculous figure cut by a man in love, the victim in this case
being his friend Haslam; relates jokes practical and other which had
lately passed between Brown, Dilke, and himself, and after a very
sensible excursion into history and current politics, to which he was
never at all so indifferent as is commonly said, he dwells with a
kindly, humorous enjoyment on the sedate maiden-ladylike ways and
aspects of the cathedral town where he found the autumn quietude so
comforting. This sets him thinking of his fragment of a poem written
seven months earlier and breathing a similar spirit, the _Eve of St
Mark_; so he transcribes it for their benefit, and also, in odd
contrast, a long passage from Burton's _Anatomy_ which had tickled some
queer corner of his brain by its cumulative effect of exuberant and
grotesque disgustfulness, and which he declares he would love to hear
delivered by an actor across the footlights.

During the same days at Winchester Keats also wrote intimately and
purposefully to Reynolds, Brown, and Dilke. In all these letters we see
the well conditioned, wise and admirable Keats, the sane and healthy
partner in his so dual and divided nature, for the time being holding
firmly, or at any rate hopeful and confident of being able to hold
firmly, the upper hand. He resolves manfully to rally his moral powers,
to banish over-passionate and fretful feelings and to put himself on a
right footing with the world. Imaginary troubles, he declares, are what
prey upon a man: real troubles spur him to exertion, and exert himself
and fight against morbid imaginings he will. In reference to George's
money troubles, 'Rest in the confidence,' he says, 'that I will not omit
any exertion to benefit you by some means or other: if I cannot remit
you hundreds, I will tens, and if not that, ones:' a promise which we
shall find George taking only too literally later on. Of his brothers
and his own immediate prospect he writes with seriousness, nevertheless
more encouragingly than the occasion well warranted. He will not let
himself seem too much depressed even by the heavy check which his and
Brown's hopes about _Otho the Great_ had just received from the news of
Kean's intended departure for America.

  We are certainly in a very low estate--I say we, for I am in such a
  situation, that were it not for the assistance of Brown and Taylor, I
  must be as badly off as a man can be. I could not raise any sum by the
  promise of any poem, no, not by the mortgage of my intellect. We must
  wait a little while. I really have hopes of success. I have finished a
  tragedy, which if it succeeds will enable me to sell what I may have
  in manuscript to a good advantage. I have passed my time in reading,
  writing, and fretting, the last I intend to give up, and stick to the
  other two. They are the only chances of benefit to us. Your wants will
  be a fresh spur to me. I assure you you shall more than share what I
  can get whilst I am still young. The time may come when age will make
  me more selfish. I have not been well treated by the world, and yet I
  have, capitally well. I do not know a person to whom so many
  purse-strings would fly open as to me, if I could possibly take
  advantage of them, which I cannot do, for none of the owners of these
  purses are rich.... Mine, I am sure, is a tolerable tragedy; it would
  have been a bank to me, if just as I had finished it, I had not heard
  of Kean's resolution to go to America. That was the worst news I could
  have had.... But be not cast down any more than I am; I feel I can
  bear real ills better than imaginary ones. Whenever I find myself
  growing vapourish, I rouse myself, wash, and put on a clean shirt,
  brush my hair and clothes, tie my shoestrings neatly, and in fact
  adonize as if I were going out. Then, all clean and comfortable, I sit
  down to write. This I find the greatest relief.

And again, in still better heart:--

  With my inconstant disposition it is no wonder that this morning, amid
  all our bad times and misfortunes, I should feel so alert and
  well-spirited. At this moment you are perhaps in a very different
  state of mind. It is because my hopes are ever paramount to my
  despair. I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have
  composed lately, called _Lamia_, and I am certain there is that sort
  of fire in it which must take hold of people in some way. Give them
  either pleasant or unpleasant sensation--what they want is a sensation
  of some sort. I wish I could pitch the key of your spirits as high as
  mine is; but your organ-loft is beyond the reach of my voice.

To Dilke and Brown he writes at the same time of his own immediate
plans, telling them that he is determined to give up trusting to mere
hopes of ultimate success, whether from plays or poems, and to turn to
the natural resource of a man fit for nothing but literature and needing
to support himself by his pen; the resource, that is, of journalism and
reviewing. These are some of his words to Dilke:--

  Wait for the issue of this Tragedy? No--there cannot be greater
  uncertainties east, west, north, and south than concerning dramatic
  composition. How many months must I wait! Had I not better begin to
  look about me now? If better events supersede this necessity what harm
  will be done? I have no trust whatever on Poetry. I don't wonder at
  it--the marvel is to me how people read so much of it. I think you
  will see the reasonableness of my plan. To forward it I purpose living
  in a cheap Lodging in Town, that I may be in the reach of books and
  information of which there is here a plentiful lack. If I can find any
  place tolerably comfortable I will settle myself and fag till I can
  afford to buy Pleasure--which if I never can afford I must go without.

He had been living since May on an advance from Taylor and a loan from
Brown to be repaid out of the eventual profits of their play, and was
uneasy at putting Brown to a present sacrifice. He writes to him
accordingly:--

  I have not known yet what it is to be diligent. I purpose living in
  town in a cheap lodging, and endeavouring, for a beginning, to get the
  theatricals of some paper. When I can afford to compose deliberate
  poems, I will.... I had got into a habit of mind of looking towards
  you as a help in all difficulties. You will see it as a duty I owe
  myself to break the neck of it. I do nothing for my subsistence--make
  no exertion. At the end of another year you shall applaud me, not for
  verses, but for conduct.

Brown, returning to Winchester a few days later, found his friend
unshaken in the same healthy resolutions, and however loth to lose him
for housemate and doubtful of his power to live the life he proposed,
respected his motives too much to contend against them. It was
accordingly settled that the two friends, after travelling up to London
together, should part company, Brown returning to his home at Hampstead,
while Keats went to live by himself and look out for employment on the
press. The Dilkes, who were living in Great Smith Street, Westminster,
at his desire engaged a lodging for him close by, at the corner of
College Street (no. 25), and thither he betook himself, it would seem on
the 7th or 8th of October.

College Street, as all Londoners or visitors to London know, is one of
sedately picturesque Queen Anne or early Georgian houses overlooking the
Abbey gardens. No corner of the town could have been more fitted to
soothe him with a sense of cathedral quietude resembling that which he
had just left. But the wise and purposeful Keats had reckoned without
his other self, the Keats distracted by uncontrollable love-cravings.
His blood proved traitor to his will, and the plan of life and literary
hackwork in London broke down at once on trial, or even before trial. On
the 10th he went up to Hampstead, and in a moment all his strength, to
borrow words of his own, was uncrystallized and dissolved. It was the
first time he had seen his mistress since June. He found her kind, and
from that hour was utterly passion's slave again. In the solitude of his
London lodging he found that he could not work nor rest nor fix his
thoughts. He writes to her three days later:--

  This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot
  proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and
  see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so
  short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else. The time is
  passed when I had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising
  morning of my Life. My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist
  without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again--my
  Life seems to stop there--I see no further. You have absorb'd me.

He seems to have spent the next week going backwards and forwards
between Hampstead and London, staying for three nights as a guest at
her mother's house ('my three days' dream,' he calls the visit) and for
one or two at the Dilkes' in Westminster, and finally about the 20th
settling back into his old quarters with Brown at Wentworth Place next
door to her. 'I shall be able to do nothing,' he writes.--and again
there comes the cry, 'I should like to cast the die for Love or death.'

It was for death that the die was cast, and three months later came the
seizure which made manifest the certainty of the issue. In the meantime
he lived outwardly through the autumn and early winter much the same
life as before among his own friends and Brown's. Some of them noticed
in him at times a loss of natural gaiety and an unaccustomed strain of
recklessness and moodiness. Severn, who had spent with him part of one
of his days at the College Street lodgings, hearing him read _Lamia_ and
tell of the change of mind about _Hyperion_ (to Severn as an ardent
Miltonian a sore disappointment), called there again a few days later
only to find him flown; and going to see him the next Sunday at
Hampstead was perturbed by the change in him. 'He seemed well neither in
mind nor in body, with little of the happy confidence and resolute
bearing of a week earlier: while alternating moods of apathetic
dejection and spasmodic gaiety rendered him a companion somewhat
difficult to humour.' His correspondence at the same time falls off, and
from mid-October until past Christmas we get only one letter to Severn,
one to Rice, one to Taylor the publisher, and three or four to his
sister Fanny. For other evidence we have the recollections, fairly full
but somewhat enigmatical withal, of his housemate Brown; some
blatancies, little to be trusted, of Haydon; and what is more revealing,
the tenor of his own attempts at new poetical work, as well as a few
private utterances in verse which the stress of passion forced from him.

For some weeks he was able to ply at Wentworth Place a double daily
task: one, that of writing each morning in the same sitting-room with
Brown, who copied as he wrote, some stanzas of a comic fairy poem which
they had devised together, to be called _The Cap and Bells, or The
Jealousies_, and to come out under the pseudonym of 'Lucy Vaughan
Lloyd': the other, carried on each evening in the seclusion of his own
room, that of remodelling _Hyperion_ into the form of a Dream or Vision,
in which parts of the poem as begun a year before should be incorporated
with certain changes of style and diction. At the former scheme Keats
worked with great fluency but little felicity: the mere, almost
mechanical act of spinning the verses of _The Cap and Bells_ seems to
have come all the easier to him in that they sprang from no vital or
inward part of his imaginative being, and the result is as nearly
worthless as anything written by such a man can be conceived to be. In
his solitary work on the recast of _Hyperion_ Keats wrote, on the other
hand, out of the truest--which had come, alas! also to be the
saddest--depths of himself; and the fragment needs to be studied with as
much care as the best of his earlier work by those who would understand
the ripening thoughts of this great, now stricken, spirit on the
destinies of poets and the relation of poetry to human life. To that
study we shall come by and by. For the present let it be only noted that
these twofold occupations seem to have been kept up by Keats through
November, and broken off soon afterwards 'owing to a circumstance
which,' says Brown, mysteriously, 'it is needless to mention.' But
judging by the rest of Brown's narrative, as well as by some of Keats's
own private outpourings, no special or external circumstance can have
been needed,--his inward sufferings were quite enough of themselves,--to
put a stop to his writing. The wasting of his vital powers by latent
disease was turning all his sensations and emotions into pain: at once
darkening the shadow of impending poverty, increasing the natural
importunity of ill-boding instincts at his heart, and exasperating into
agony the unsatisfied cravings of his passion. During his 'three days'
dream' under the same roof with his betrothed in October he had been
able to write peaceably at nightfall:--

  Faded the flower and all its budded charms,
    Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes,
  Faded the shape of beauty from my arms,
    Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise--
  Vanish'd unseasonably at shut of eve,
    When the dusk holiday--or holinight
  Of fragrant-curtain'd love begins to weave
    The woof of darkness thick, for hid delight;
  But, as I've read love's missal through to-day,
    He'll let me sleep, seeing I fast and pray.

But now the hunger is uncontrollable:--

  Yourself--your soul--in pity give me all,
    Withold no atom's atom or I die,
  Or living on perhaps, your wretched thrall.
    Forget, in the mist of idle misery,
  Life's purposes,--the palate of my mind
  Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!

And again he cries, what can he do to recover his old liberty?--

  When every fair one that I saw was fair,
  Enough to catch me in but half a snare,
  Not keep me there:
  When, howe'er poor or particolour'd things,
  My muse had wings,
  And ever ready was to take her course
  Whither I bent her force,
  Unintellectual, yet divine to me;--
  Divine, I say!--What sea-bird o'er the sea
  Is a philosopher the while he goes
  Winging along where the great water throes?

        How shall I do
        To get anew
  Those moulted feathers, and so mount once more
        Above, above
        The reach of fluttering Love,
  And make him cower lowly while I soar?
  Shall I gulp wine? No, that is vulgarism,
  A heresy and schism,
        Foisted into the canon law of love;--
  No,--wine is only sweet to happy men;
        More dismal cares
        Seize on me unawares,--
  Where shall I learn to get my peace again?
  To banish thoughts of that most hateful land,
  Dungeoner of my friends, that wicked strand
  Where they were wreck'd and live a wrecked life;
  That monstrous region, whose dull rivers pour,
  Ever from their sordid urns unto the shore,
  Unown'd of any weedy-haired gods,
  Whose winds, all zephyrless, hold scourging rods,
  Ic'd in the great lakes, to afflict mankind;
  Whose rank-grown forests, frosted, black, and blind,
  Would fright a Dryad; whose harsh herbag'd meads
  Make lean and lank the starv'd ox while he feeds;
  There bad flowers have no scent, birds no sweet song,
  And great unerring Nature once seems wrong.

With that image of the sea-bird winging untroubled its chosen way over
the waves, and as free as they, the poet sheds a real light on his own
psychology in happier days, while the later lines figure direfully the
obsession that now seems to make him think of even his friendships as
wrecked and darkened, and of love as a ghastly error in nature, no joy
but a scourge that blights and devastates. That he might win peace by
marriage with the object of his passion does not seem to have occurred
to Keats as possible at the present ebb-tide of his fortune. 'However
selfishly I feel,' he had written to her some months earlier, 'I am sure
I could never act selfishly.' The Brawnes on their part were comfortably
off, but what his instincts of honour and independence forbade him to
ask, hers of tenderness could perhaps hardly be expected to offer. As
the autumn wore into winter, he was not able to disguise his plight from
his affectionate companion Brown, though he shrank from speaking of its
causes. Looking back upon the time after ten years Brown records the
impression it left upon him thus:--

  It was evident from the letters he had sent me, even in his
  self-deceived assurance that he was 'as far from being unhappy as
  possible,' that he was unhappy. I quickly perceived he was more so
  than I had feared; his abstraction, his occasional lassitude of mind,
  and, frequently, his assumed tranquillity of countenance gave me great
  uneasiness. He was unwilling to speak on the subject; and I could do
  no more than attempt, indirectly, to cheer him with hope, avoiding
  that word however.

Brown then tells of his morning and evening work on _The Cap and Bells_
and the revised _Hyperion_ and, in the vague terms I have quoted, of its
cessation. And then, seeming to assign to money troubles an even greater
part than they really bore in causing Keats's distress of mind, Brown
goes on--

  He could not resume his employment, and he became dreadfully unhappy.
  His hopes of fame, and other more tender hopes were blighted. His
  patrimony, though much consumed in a profession he was compelled to
  relinquish, might have upheld him through the storm, had he not
  imprudently lost a part of it in generous loans.... He possessed the
  noble virtues of friendship and generosity to excess; and they, in
  this world, may chance to spoil a man of independent feeling, till he
  is destitute. Even the 'immediate cash,' of which he spoke in the
  extracts I have given from his letters, was lent, with no hope of its
  speedy repayment, and he was left worse than pennyless. All that a
  friend could say, or offer, or urge was not enough to heal his many
  wounds. He listened, and, in kindness, or soothed by kindness, showed
  tranquillity, but nothing from a friend could relieve him, except on a
  matter of inferior trouble. He was too thoughtful, or too unquiet; and
  he began to be reckless of health. Among other proofs of recklessness,
  he was secretly taking, at times, a few drops of laudanum to keep up
  his spirits. It was discovered by accident, and, without delay,
  revealed to me. He needed not to be warned of the danger of such a
  habit; but I rejoiced at his promise never to take another drop
  without my knowledge; for nothing could induce him to break his word,
  when once given,--which was a difficulty. Still, at the very moment of
  my being rejoiced, this was an additional proof of his rooted misery.

Where Brown hints of his being 'careless of health,' Haydon, referring
apparently to this time of his life in particular, declares roundly and
crudely as follows:--

  Unable to bear the sneers of ignorance or the attacks of envy, not
  having strength of mind enough to buckle himself together like a
  porcupine, and present nothing but his prickles to his enemies, he
  began to despond, and flew to dissipation as a relief, which after a
  temporary elevation of spirits plunged him into deeper despondency
  than ever. For six weeks he was scarcely sober, and--to show what a
  man does to gratify his appetites, when once they get the better of
  him--once covered his tongue and throat as far as he could reach with
  Cayenne pepper, in order to appreciate the 'delicious coldness of
  claret in all its glory,'--his own expression.

If Keats really told Haydon that silly, and I should suppose impossible,
story about the claret and cayenne it was probably only a piece of such
'rhodomontade' as his friends describe, invented on the spur of the
moment to scandalize Haydon or under the provocation of one of his
preachments. That he may at moments during these unhappy months have
sought relief in dissipation of one kind or another, as Brown tells us
he did in drug-taking, is likely: that he was now or at any time
habitually given to drink is disproved by the explicit testimony of all
his friends as well as of Brown, his closest intimate. In his few
letters of the time his secret misery is betrayed only by a single
phrase. Early in December he writes arranging to go with Severn to see
the picture with which Severn was competing for, and eventually won, the
annual gold medal of the Academy for historical painting. The subject
was 'The Cave of Despair' from Spenser. Keats in making the appointment
adds parenthetically from his troubled heart, 'you had best put me into
your Cave of Despair.' A little later we hear of him flinging out in a
fit of angered loyalty from a company of elder artists, Hilton, De Wint
and others, where the deserts of the winner were disparaged and his
success put down to favouritism.

It would seem that as late as November 17th he was still, or had quite
lately been, going on with _The Cap and Bells_. He writes on that date
to Taylor depreciating what he has recently been about and indicating in
what direction his thoughts, when he could bend them seriously upon work
at all, were inclined to turn:--

  As the marvellous is the most enticing and the surest guarantee of
  harmonious numbers I have been endeavouring to persuade myself to
  untether Fancy and to let her manage for herself. I and myself cannot
  agree about this at all. Wonders are no wonders to me. I am more at
  home amongst Men and women. I would rather read Chaucer than Ariosto.
  The little dramatic skill I may as yet have however badly it might
  show in a Drama would I think be sufficient for a Poem. I wish to
  diffuse the colouring of St Agnes eve throughout a poem in which
  Character and Sentiment would be the figures to such drapery. Two or
  three such Poems, if God should spare me, written in the course of the
  next six years, would be a famous gradus ad Parnassum altissimum. I
  mean they would nerve me up to the writing of a few fine Plays--my
  greatest ambition--when I do feel ambitious. I am sorry to say that is
  very seldom. The subject we have once or twice talked of appears a
  promising one, The Earl of Leicester's history. I am this morning
  reading Holingshed's _Elizabeth_.

It does not seem clear whether his idea about Leicester was to use the
subject for a narrative poem or for a play. Scott's _Kenilworth_, be it
remembered, had not yet been written.

In December he writes to his sister Fanny of the trouble his throat
keeps giving him or threatening him with on exertion or cold, and says
that he has been ordering a thick great coat and thick shoes on the
advice of his doctor. He also mentions that he has begun to prepare a
volume of poems to come out in the spring, and that he is touching up
his and Brown's tragedy in order to brighten its interest. It had been
accepted, he tells her, by Drury Lane, but only with the promise of
coming out next season, and as that is not soon enough they intend
either to insist on its being brought out this season or else to
transfer it to Covent Gardens. He has been anxiously expecting, and has
just now received, news of George; and has promised to dine with Mrs
Dilke in London on Christmas day. Whether he was able to keep this
engagement we do not learn; but Brown at any rate was there, and between
him and Dilke there arose a challenge on which Keats among others was
called to adjudicate. The conversation, writes Mrs Dilke, 'turned on
fairy tales--Brown's forte--Dilke not liking them. Brown said he was
sure he could beat Dilke, and to let him try they betted a beefsteak
supper, and an allotted time was given. They had been read by the
persons fixed on--Keats, Reynolds, Rice, and Taylor--and the wager was
decided the night before last in favour of Dilke. Next Saturday night
the supper is to be given,--Beefsteaks and punch--the food of the
"Cockney School."'

So life went on for the friends, on the surface, pretty much as usual,
into the new year (1820). Early in January George Keats came for a short
visit to England to try and advance his affairs and get possession of
more capital for his business. He seems not to have realized at all
fully the true state of his brother's health or heart. He noticed,
indeed, a change, and looking back on the time some years afterwards
writes, 'he was not the same being; although his reception of me was as
warm as heart could wish, he did not speak with former openness and
unreserve, he had lost the reviving custom of venting his griefs.'
George was probably too full of his own affairs to enquire very closely
into John's, or he would never have allowed John, as he did, to strip
himself practically bare of future means of subsistence in fulfilment of
the brotherly promises of help conveyed, as we have seen, in his letter
from Winchester the previous September. 'It was not fair of him, was
it?' John is recorded to have said a little later from his sick-bed,
referring to George's action in so taking him at his word; and Brown
from this circumstance conceived of George a bitter bad opinion which
nothing afterwards would shake. Nevertheless there is ample evidence of
George's honourable and affectionate character, and it seems clear that
in striving for commercial success he had his brother's ultimate benefit
in view as much as his own, and that in the meantime he believed he had
reason to take for granted the willingness and ability of John's many
friends to keep him afloat.

On January 13th, a week after George's arrival, John took up his pen to
try and write to his sister-in-law a journal letter in the old chatty
affectionate style. If he had the means, he says, he would like to come
and pay them a visit in America for a few months. 'I should not think
much of the time, or my absence from my books; or I have no right to
think, for I am very idle. But then I ought to be diligent, or at least
to keep myself within reach of the materials for diligence. Diligence,
that I do not mean to say; I should say dreaming over my books, or
rather over other people's books.' He gossips about friends and
acquaintances, less good-naturedly than usual, as he seems to be aware
when he says, 'any third person would think I was addressing myself to a
lover of scandal. But we know we do not love scandal, but fun; and if
scandal happens to be fun, that is no fault of ours.' He tells how
George is making copies of his verses, including the ode to the
Nightingale; lets his inward embitterment show through for an instant
when he says, 'If you should have a boy, do not christen him John, and
persuade George not to let his partiality for me come across: 'tis a bad
name, and goes against a man;' describes a dance he has been to at the
Dilkes, and among a good deal of rather irritable and wry-mouthed social
satire, to which he tries to give a colour of pleasantry and
playfulness, strikes into sharp definition with the fewest possible
words the characters of some of his friends and acquaintances:--

  I know three witty people, all distinct in their excellence--Rice,
  Reynolds, and Richards. Rice is the wisest, Reynolds the playfullest,
  Richards the out-o'-the-wayest. The first makes you laugh and think,
  the second makes you laugh and not think, the third puzzles your head.
  I admire the first, I enjoy the second, I stare at the third.... I
  know three people of no wit at all, each distinct in his
  excellence--A, B, and C. A is the foolishest, B the sulkiest, C is a
  negative. A makes you yawn, B makes you hate, as for C you never see
  him at all though he were six feet high.--I bear the first, I forbear
  the second, I am not certain that the third is. The first is gruel,
  the second ditch-water, the third is spilt--he ought to be wiped up.

This was written on January 17th. Ten days later George started on his
return journey, and John, having forgotten to hand him for delivery at
home the budget he had been writing, was obliged to send it after him by
post. A week later again, on February 3rd, came the crash towards which,
as we can now see, Keats's physical constitution had been hastening ever
since the over exertion of his Scottish tour twenty months before. The
weather had been very variable, almost sultry in mid-January, then
bitter cold with frost and sleet, then a thaw, whereby Keats was tempted
to leave off his greatcoat. Coming from London to Hampstead outside the
stage coach on the night of Thursday February 3rd, the chill of the thaw
caught him. Everyone knows the words in which Brown relates the
sequel:--

  At eleven o'clock, he came into the house in a state that looked like
  fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible; it
  therefore was the more fearful. I asked hurriedly, 'What is the
  matter? you are fevered?' 'Yes, yes,' he answered, 'I was on the
  outside of the stage this bitter day till I was severely chilled,--but
  now I don't feel it. Fevered!--of course, a little.' He mildly and
  instantly yielded, a property in his nature towards any friend, to my
  request that he should go to bed. I entered his chamber as he leapt
  into bed. On entering the cold sheets, before his head was on the
  pillow, he slightly coughed, and I heard him say,--'That is blood from
  my mouth.' I went towards him; he was examining a single drop of blood
  upon the sheet. 'Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see this
  blood.' After regarding it steadfastly he looked up in my face, with a
  calmness of countenance that I can never forget, and said,--'I know
  the colour of that blood;--it is arterial blood;--I cannot be deceived
  in that colour;--that drop of blood is my death-warrant;--I must die.'
  I ran for a surgeon; my friend was bled; and, at five in the morning,
  I left him after he had been some time in a quiet sleep.

Keats lived for twelve months longer, but it was only, in his own words,
a life in death. Before narrating the end, let us pause and consider his
work of the two preceding years, 1818 and 1819, on which his fame as a
great English poet is chiefly founded.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] Local tradition, I am informed, used to identify the house as one
    called Eglantine Villa, now demolished. The existing 'Keats Crescent'
    was so named, not as indicating the special neighbourhood where the
    poet lodged, but only by way of general commemoration of his sojourn.

  [2]
                                  --and now his heart
      Distends with pride, and hardening in his strength
      Glories--.

        Milton, _Par. Lost_, i. 581.

  [3] Morgan MSS.



CHAPTER XIII

WORK OF 1818, 1819.--I. THE ACHIEVEMENTS

  Minor achievements--_Bards of Passion and of Mirth_--_Fancy_--The
  tales--_Isabella_--Story and metre--Influence of Chaucer--Apostrophes
  and invocations--Horror turned to beauty--The digging scene--Its
  quality--_The Eve of St Agnes_--Variety of sources--Boccaccio's
  _Filocolo_--Poetic scope and method--Examples--The unrobing scene--The
  feast of fruits--A rounded close--_Lamia_--Sources: and a
  comparison--Metre and quality--Beauties and faults--Perplexing
  moral--The sage denounced: why?--Comments of Leigh Hunt--The odes: _To
  Psyche_--Sources: Burton and Apuleius--Qualities: A questionable
  claim--_On Indolence_--_On a Grecian Urn_--Sources: a
  composite--Spheres of art and life contrasted--Play between the two
  spheres--The Nightingale ode--_Ode on Melancholy_--A grand close--The
  last of the odes--_To Autumn_.


The work of Keats's two mature years (if any poet or man in his
twenty-third and twenty-fourth years can be called mature) seems to
divide itself naturally into two main groups or classes. One class
consists of his finished achievements, things successfully carried
through in accordance with his first intention; the other of his
fragments and experiments, things begun and broken off either from
external causes or because in the execution the poet changed his mind or
his inspiration failed to sustain itself. I shall ask the reader to
consider the two classes separately, the achievements first: not because
there may not be even finer work in some of the fragments, but because a
thing incomplete, a torso, however splendid in power and promise, cannot
be judged on the same terms or with the same approach to finality as a
thing of which the whole is before us. One finished thing only, the
play of _Otho the Great_, I shall turn over to the second or
experimental class, seeing that an experiment it essentially was, and
one tried under conditions which made it impossible for Keats to be his
true self.

The class of achievements will include, then, besides a score of sonnets
and a few minor pieces of various form, the three completed tales in
verse, _Isabella or the Pot of Basil_, _The Eve of St Agnes_, and
_Lamia_; with the six odes, _To Psyche_, _On Indolence_ (not published
in Keats's lifetime), _On a Grecian Urn_, _To a Nightingale_, _To
Melancholy_, and _To Autumn_. Beginning with the minor things,--the
sonnets, being mostly occasional and autobiographical, have been
sufficiently touched on in our narrative chapters, and so have several
of the shorter lyrics, _In drear-nighted December_, _Meg Merrilies_, and
_La Belle Dame Sans Merci_. There remains chiefly the batch of pieces in
the seven-syllable couplet metre printed in the _Lamia_ volume between
the odes _To Psyche_ and _To Autumn_. Two of these, _Lines on the
Mermaid Tavern_ and _Robin Hood_, were written, as we have seen, at the
beginning of 1818, in the months when Keats was living alone in Well
Walk and resting after his labour on _Endymion_. Both are easy,
spirited, and intensely English in feeling; both, for all their gay
lightness of touch, are marked with that vivid imaginative life in
single phrases which almost from the first, amidst all the rawnesses of
his youth, stamps Keats for a poet of the great lineage. Already two
years earlier, in the valentine 'Hadst thou liv'd in days of old,' he
had shown a fair command of this metre, and now we can feel that he has
an ear well trained in its cadences by familiarity with the finest early
models, from Fletcher (in the _Faithful Shepherdess_) and Ben Jonson (in
the masque of _The Satyr_, the songs _To Celia_, and the _Charis_
lyrics) down to _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_.

The other two pieces in the same form, _Bards of Passion and of Mirth_
and _Fancy_, date from nearly a year later, when Keats had settled
under Brown's roof after Tom's death, and were copied by him for his
brother in a letter dated January 2nd 1819. In the _Mermaid Tavern_
lines he had followed in fancy the poet-guests of that hostelry to the
Elysian fields and asked them if they found there any finer
entertainment than in their old haunt. In _Bards of Passion and of
Mirth_, which he wrote on a blank page in Dilke's copy of Beaumont and
Fletcher, Keats singles out this particular pair of poet-partners to
follow beyond the grave, and in a strain somewhat more serious tells of
the double lives they lead,--their souls left here on earth in their
writings, and themselves--

  Seated on Elysian lawns
  Brows'd by none but Dian's fawns ...
  Where the nightingale doth sing
  Not a senseless, trancèd thing,
  But divine, melodious truth;
  Philosophic numbers smooth;
  Tales and golden histories
  Of heaven and its mysteries.

In the affirmation with which the piece concludes,--

  Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
  Ye have left your souls on Earth!
  Ye have souls in heaven too,
  Double-liv'd in regions new!--

in this affirmation it seems, as Mr Buxton Forman has pointed out, as
though Keats were gaily countering the view of Wordsworth in the
well-known stanzas where, declaring how the power of Burns survives
'deep in the general heart of men,' he goes on to ask what need has the
poet for any other kind of Elysian after-life.[1]

Following an eighteenth-century practice, Keats calls this set of
heptasyllabics an ode, a form which in strictness it no way resembles. A
higher place is taken in his work by the longest poem he sends his
brother in the same metre, _Fancy_. He calls it a rondeau, again rather
at random; but he had already called the Bacchus lyric in _Endymion_ a
roundelay, and seems to have thought that the name might apply to any
set of verses returning upon itself at the end with a repetition of its
beginning. In the present case he both opens and closes his poem with
the same idea as has been condensed by a later writer in the two-line
refrain--

  But every poet, born to stray,
  Still feeds upon the far-away.

The opening lines run,--

  Ever let the Fancy roam,
  Pleasure never is at home:
  At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
  Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;
  Then let winged Fancy wander
  Through the thought still spread beyond her:
  Open wide the mind's cage-door,
  She'll dart forth, and cloudward soar.
  O sweet Fancy! let her loose;
  Summer's joys are spoilt by use,
  And the enjoying of the Spring
  Fades as does its blossoming;
  Autumn's red-lipp'd fruitage too,
  Blushing through the mist and dew,
  Cloys with tasting: What do then?

The answer is that the thing to do is to sit by the chimney corner while
Fancy goes ranging abroad to find and bring home a harvest of
incompatible and contradictory delights; and after the evocation of a
number of such the poem comes round at the end to a slightly altered
repetition of its opening couplet,--

  Let the winged Fancy roam
  Pleasure never is at home.

I like to think that Keats may have drawn his impulse to writing this
poem from the fine passage in Fuller's _Holy State_ quoted by Lamb in
his brief 'Specimens' of that author[2]:--

  _Fancy._--It is the most boundless and restless faculty of the soul
  ... it digs without spade, sails without ship, flies without wings,
  builds without charges, fights without bloodshed; in a moment striding
  from the centre to the circumference of the world; by a kind of
  omnipotency creating and annihilating things in an instant; and things
  divorced in Nature are married in Fancy as in a lawless place.

At any rate Keats's poem, in its best and central part, is a delightful
embroidery on the ideas here expressed. The notion, or vision, of a
lawless place where all manner of things divorced in nature abide
together and happily jostle, was one that often haunted him, as witness
his verse-epistle to Reynolds from Teignmouth, the fragment he calls
_The Castle Builder_, and again the piece beginning 'Welcome joy and
welcome sorrow,' to which there has been posthumously given the title _A
Song of Opposites_. The lines evoking such a vision in this poem,
_Fancy_, are almost his happiest in his lighter vein, and are written in
the true Elizabethan tradition: the predominant influence in the
handling of the measure being, to my ear, that of Ben Jonson, who is
wont to give it a certain weight and slowness of movement by the free
use of long syllables in the unaccented places; even so Keats, in the
passage quoted above, puts in such places words like 'sweet,' 'rain,'
'still,' 'cage,' 'dart,' 'lipp'd.'

Passing from the minor to the major achievements of the time, the
earliest, and to my mind the finest, of these is _Isabella or the Pot of
Basil_. During the writing of _Endymion_, Keats had intended his next
effort to be on the lofty classic and symbolic theme of the dethronement
of Hyperion and the Titans and the accession of Apollo and the
Olympians. But certain reading and talk in the Hunt circle having
diverted him from this purpose for a while, and made him take up the
idea of a volume of metrical tales from Boccaccio to be written jointly
by himself and Reynolds, he chose the tale of the Pot of Basil (the
fifth of the fourth day in the _Decameron_), made a sudden beginning at
it before he left Hampstead at the end of February, (1819), and
finished it at Teignmouth in the course of April. As an appropriate
vehicle for an Italian story he took the Italian _ottava rima_ or stanza
of eight. Several of the earlier English poets had used this metre:
Keats's main model for it was doubtless Edward Fairfax, who, following
other Elizabethan translators, had in his fine version from Tasso,
_Godfrey of Bulloigne_, done much more than any of his predecessors
towards suppling and perfecting its treatment in English. Since then it
had been little employed in our serious poetry, but had lately been
brilliantly revived for flippant and satiric uses, after later Italian
models, by Hookham Frere and Byron. Keats goes over the heads of these
direct to Fairfax, and in certain points at least, in variety of pause
and cadence and subtle adaptation of verbal music to emotional effect,
by a good deal outdoes even that excellent master.[3] Of course it is of
the essence of his treatment to avoid, in the closing couplet of the
stanza, the special effect of witty snap and suddenness which fits it so
well for the purpose of satire.

Every one knows the story: how a maiden of Messina (Keats chooses to
transfer the scene to Florence), living in the house of her merchant
brothers, in secret loves one of their clerks: how her brothers,
discovering her secret, take out her lover to the forest and there slay
and bury him: how his ghost appearing to her in a dream reveals his fate
and burial place: how she hastens thither with her nurse, digs till she
finds the corpse and having found it carries home the head and sets it
in a pot of basil, or sweet marjoram, which she cherishes and waters
with her tears until her brothers take it from her, whereupon she pines
away and dies.

Boccaccio tells this story with that admirable combination of
straightforward conciseness and finished grace which characterizes his
mature prose. Keats in his poem romantically amplifies and embroiders
it. In his way of doing so we can trace the influence of Chaucer, with
whose _Troilus and Criseyde_, that miracle of detailed, long-drawn, yet
ever human and rarely tedious narrative, he was by this time familiar.
Keats, while avoiding Chaucer's prolixity, diversifies his tale with
invocations to Love and to the Muses, with apostrophes to the reader and
ejaculatory comments on the events, entirely in Chaucer's manner: only
whereas Chaucer relegates the more part of such matter to the 'proems'
of his several books, Keats, having plunged into the thick of the story
in his first line, finds room for his apostrophes and invocations in the
course of the narrative itself. Most critics have taken the view that
this is evidence of weak or immature art. To my mind this is not so: the
pauses thus introduced are never long enough to hold up the flow and
interest of the narrative, while they afford welcome rests to the
attention, pleasant changes from a too sustained narrative construction,
with consequent beautiful and happy modulations in the movement of the
verse.

One of these invocations--invocation and apology together--is to
Boccaccio himself, disowning all idea of improving the tale and defining
the poet's attempt as made but to honour him,--

  To stead thee as a verse in English tongue,
  An echo of thee in the north-wind sung.

The definition is exact. The revived spirit of English romantic poetry
breathes in every line of the verse, and as in _Endymion_, so here, the
southern setting is conceived as though it were English. 'So the two
brothers and their murder'd man' (the force of the anticipatory epithet
has been celebrated by every critic since Lamb)--

  So the two brothers and their murder'd man
    Rode past fair Florence, to where Arno's stream
  Gurgles through straiten'd banks, and still doth fan
    Itself with dancing bulrush, and the bream
  Keep head against the freshets.

Another such criticized 'digression' tells of the toilers yoked in all
quarters of the world to the service of these avaricious merchant
brothers. In calling up their sufferings Keats for a moment strikes an
unexpected verbal echo from the _Annus Mirabilis_ of Dryden.[4] Dryden,
telling of the monopolies of the Dutch in the East India trade, had
written,--

  For them alone the Heav'ns had kindly heat,
    In eastern quarries ripening precious dew:
  For them the Idumean balm did sweat,
    And in hot Ceilon spicy forests grew.

Keats writes of Isabella's brothers,--

  For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,
    And went all naked to the hungry shark,
  For them his ears gush'd blood--

with more in the same strain, very vividly and humanly imagined, but
somewhat unevenly written. On the other hand the last of the rests or
interruptions in this poem is to my thinking one of its most original
and admirable beauties: I mean the invocation beginning 'O Melancholy,
linger here awhile,' repeated with lovely modulations in stanzas lv,
lvi, and lxi; the poet deliberately pausing to heighten his effect as it
were by an accompaniment of words chosen purely for their pathetic
melody and more musical than music itself.

Keats's way of imagining and telling the story is not less delicate than
it is intense. Flaws and false notes there are: phrases, as in
_Endymion_, too dulcet and cloying, like that which tells how the
lover's lips grew bold, 'And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme:' a flat
line where it is most out of place--'And Isabella did not stamp or
rave:' a far-fetched rime, as where 'love' and 'grove' draw in after
them the alien idea of Lorenzo not being embalmed in 'Indian clove.' But
such flaws, abundant in _Endymion_, are in _Isabella_ rare and need to
be searched for. If we want an example of the staple tissue of the poem
we shall rather find it in a stanza like this:--

  Parting they seem'd to tread upon the air,
    Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart
  Only to meet again more close, and share
    The inward fragrance of each other's heart.
  She, to her chamber gone, a ditty fair
    Sang of delicious love and honey'd dart;
  He with light steps went up a western hill,
  And bade the sun farewell, and joy'd his fill.

The image of love-happiness in the last couplet is as jocund and
uplifting as some radiant symbolic drawing by Blake, and poetry has few
things more perfect or easier in their perfection.

In a far more difficult kind, where Keats has to deal with the features
of the story that might easily make for the repulsive or the _macabre_,
he triumphs not by shirking but by sheer force of passionate
imagination. 'The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of
making all disagreeables evaporate from their being in close
relationship with beauty and truth.' This dictum of Keats can scarcely
be better illustrated than by his own handling of the _Isabella_ story.
Take the vision of the murdered man appearing to the girl at night:--

  Strange sound it was, when the pale shadow spake;
    For there was striving, in its piteous tongue,
  To speak as when on earth it was awake,
    And Isabella on its music hung:
  Languor there was in it, and tremulous shake,
    As in a palsied Druid's harp unstrung;
  And through it moan'd a ghostly under-song,
  Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briars among.

  Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy bright
    With love, and kept all phantom fear aloof
  From the poor girl by magic of their light.

How wonderfully, in these touches, do we feel love prevailing over
horror and purging the apparition of all its charnel ghastliness. When
we come to the discovery and digging up of the body, Boccaccio turns
the difficulty which must inhere in any realistic treatment of the theme
by simply saying that it was uncorrupted; as though some kind of miracle
had kept it fresh. Keats on the other hand confronts the difficulty and
overcomes it. First he acknowledges how the imagination in dwelling on
the dead is prone to call up images of corruptibility:--

  Who hath not loiter'd in a green church-yard,
    And let his spirit, like a demon-mole,
  Work through the clayey soil and gravel hard,
    To see scull, coffin'd bones, and funeral stole;
  Pitying each form that hungry Death hath marr'd,
    And filling it once more with human soul?
  Ah! this is holiday to what was felt
  When Isabella by Lorenzo knelt.

Then he compulsively leads away the mind from such images to think only
of the passionate absorption with which Isabella flings herself upon her
task:--

  She gaz'd into the fresh-thrown mould, as though
    One glance did fully all its secrets tell;
  Clearly she saw, as other eyes would know
    Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;
  Upon the murderous spot she seem'd to grow,
    Like to a native lilly of the dell:
  Then with her knife, all sudden, she began
  To dig more fervently than misers can.

  Soon she turn'd up a soiled glove, whereon
    Her silk had play'd in purple phantasies,
  She kiss'd it with a lip more chill than stone,
    And put it in her bosom, where it dries
  And freezes utterly unto the bone
    Those dainties made to still an infant's cries:
  Then 'gan she work again; nor stay'd her care,
  But to throw back at times her veiling hair.

[Illustration: PL. X

PAGE FROM ISABELLA; OR, THE POT OF BASIL

FROM AN AUTOGRAPH BY KEATS IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM]

Is any scene in poetry written with more piercing, more unerring,
vision? The swift despairing gaze of the girl, anticipating with too
dire a certainty the realization of her dream: the simile in the third
and fourth lines, emphasizing the clearness of that certainty, and at
the same time relieving its terror by an image of beauty: the new simile
of the lily, again striking the note of beauty, while it intensifies the
impression of her rooted fixity of posture and purpose: the sudden
solution of that fixity, with the final couplet, into vehement action,
as she begins (with a fine implied commentary on the relative strength
of passions) to dig 'more fervently than misers can':--then the first
reward of her toil, in the shape of a relic not ghastly, but beautiful
both in itself and for the tenderness of which it is a token: her
womanly action in kissing it and putting it in her bosom, while all the
woman and mother in her is in the same words revealed to us as blighted
by the tragedy of her life: then the resumption and continuance of her
labours, with gestures once more of vital dramatic truth as well as
grace:--to imagine and to write like this is the privilege of the best
poets only, and even the best have not often combined such concentrated
force and beauty of conception with such a limpid and flowing ease of
narrative.[5] Poetry had always come to Keats as naturally as leaves to
a tree. So he considered it ought to come, and now that it came of a
quality like this, he had fairly earned the right, which his rash youth
had too soon arrogated, to look down on the fine artificers of the
school of Pope. In comparison with the illuminating power of true
imaginative poetry, the closest rhetorical condensations of that school
seem thin, their most glittering points and aphorisms mechanical: nay,
those who admire them most justly will know better than to think the two
kinds of writing comparable.

The final consignment by Isabella of her treasure to its casket is told
with the same genius for turning horror into beauty: note the third and
fourth lines of the following, with the magically cooling and soothing
effect of their open-vowelled sonority;--

  Then in a silken scarf,--sweet with the dews
    Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
  And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
    Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,--
  She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose
    A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
  And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set
  Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.

  And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
    And she forgot the blue above the trees,
  And she forgot the dells where waters run,
    And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
  She had no knowledge when the day was done,
    And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
  Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,
  And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.

In passages like these of _Isabella_ Keats, for one reader at least,
reaches his high-water mark in human feeling, and in felicity both
imaginative and executive. The next of his three poetic tales, _The Eve
of St Agnes_, does not strike so deep, though it is more nearly
faultless and lives as the most complete and enchanting English pure
romance-poem of its time. Little or none of the effect is due in this
case to elements of magic weirdness or supernatural terror such as
counted for so much in the general romantic poetry of the day, and had
been of the very essence of achievements so diverse as _The Ancient
Mariner_, _Christabel_, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_, and _Isabella_
itself. The tale hinges on the popular belief that on St Agnes's Eve
(January the 20th) a maiden might win sight of her future husband in a
dream by going to bed supperless, silent and without looking behind her,
and sleeping on her back with her hands on the pillow above her head.
This belief is mentioned by two writers at least with whom Keats was
very familiar: by Ben Jonson in his masque _The Satyr_ and Robert Burton
in the _Anatomy of Melancholy_. An eighteenth century book of reference
which he may well have known also, Brand's _Popular Antiquities_, cites
the superstition and adds from a current chapbook a fuller account of
it, mentioning other and alternative rites. But one feature of the
promised vision which in Keats's mind was evidently essential, that the
lover should regale his mistress after her fasting dream with exquisite
viands and music, is not noted in any of these sources: Keats must
either have invented it or drawn it from some other authority which
criticism has not yet recognized.

It was an obvious and easy idea for Keats to weave into the St Agnes' Eve
motive the motive of a love-passion between the son and daughter of
hostile houses, and to bring the youth to a festival in the halls of his
enemies in a manner which reminds one both of Romeo and Juliet and of the
young Lochinvar in Scott's ballad. A remoter source has lately been
pointed out as probable for the subsequent incidents of the lover's
concealment by the old nurse in a closet next the maiden's chamber, his
coming in to her while she sleeps, the melting of his real self into her
dream of him, her momentary disenchantment and alarm on awakening, her
re-assurance and surrender and their ensuing happy union and flight. All
these circumstances, it has been shown, except the immediate flight of
the lovers, are closely paralleled in Boccaccio's early novel _Il
Filocolo_, and look as though they must have been derived from it. The
_Filocolo_ is an excessively tedious and occasionally coarse
amplification in prose, made by Boccaccio when his style was still
unformed, of the old French metrical romance, long popular throughout
Europe, of _Floire et Blancheflor_. The question is, how should Keats
have come to be acquainted with it? At this time he knew very little
Italian. He was accustomed to read his _Decameron_ in a translation,[6]
and eight months later we find him with difficulty making out Ariosto at
the rate of ten or a dozen stanzas a day. A French seventeenth-century
version of the _Filocolo_ indeed existed, but none in English. Can it be
that Hunt had told Keats the story, or at least those parts of it which
would serve him, in the course of talk about Boccaccio? One would not
have expected even Hunt's love of Italian reading to sustain him through
the tedium of this early and little known novel by the master: moreover
in criticizing _The Eve of St Agnes_ he gives no hint that Keats was
indebted to him for any of its incidents. But there the resemblances are,
too close to be easily explained as coincidences. The part played by the
old nurse Angela in Keats's poem echoes pretty closely the part played by
Glorizia in the _Filocolo_; the drama, dreaming and awake, played between
Madeline and Porphyro, repeats, though in a far finer strain, that
between Biancofiore and Florio; so that Keats's narrative reads truly
like a magically refined and enriched quintessence distilled from the
corresponding chapter in Boccaccio's tale.[7]

But the question of sources is one for the special student, and its
discussion may easily tire the lay reader. Passing to the poem and its
qualities, we have to note first that, fresh from treading, in his
_Hyperion_ attempt, in the path of Milton, Keats in _The Eve of St
Agnes_ went back, so far as his manner is derivative at all, to the
example of his first master, Spenser. He shows as perfect a command of
the Spenserian stanza, with its 'sweet-slipping movement,' as Spenser
himself, and as subtle a sense as his of the leisurely meditative pace
imposed upon the metre by the lingering Alexandrine at the close.
Narrating at this pace and in this mood, he is able at any moment with
the lightest of touches to launch the imagination to music on a voyage
beyond the beyonds, and to charge every line, every word almost, with a
richness and fullness of far-away suggestion that yet never clogs the
easy harmonious flow of the verse. At the same time he does not, in this
new poem, attempt anything like the depth of human passion and pathos
which he had touched in Isabella, and his personages appeal to us in the
manner strictly defined as 'romantic,' that is to say not so much
humanly and in themselves as by the circumstances, scenery, and
atmosphere amidst which they move.

In handling these Keats's method is the reverse of that by which some
writers vainly endeavour to rival in literature the effects of the
painter and sculptor. He never writes for the eye merely, but vivifies
everything he touches, telling even of dead and senseless things in
terms of life, movement, and feeling. From the opening stanza, which
makes us feel the chill of the season to our bones,--telling us first of
its effect on the wild and tame creatures of wood and field, and next
how the frozen breath of the old beadsman in the chapel aisle 'seem'd
taking flight for heaven, without a death,'--from thence to the close,
where the lovers disappear into the night, the poetry throbs in every
line with the life of imagination and beauty. The monuments in the aisle
are brought before us, not by any effort of description, but solely
through our sympathy with the shivering fancy of the beadsman:--

    Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries,
    He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
  To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

Even into the sculptured heads of the corbels supporting the
banquet-hall roof the poet strikes life:--

    The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
    Stared, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
  With wings blown back, and hands put cross-wise on their breasts.[8]

The painted panes in the chamber window, instead of trying to pick out
their beauties in detail, he calls--

  Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes
  As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings,--

a gorgeous phrase which leaves the widest range to the
colour-imagination of the reader, giving it at the same time a
sufficient clue by the simile drawn from a particular specimen of
nature's blazonry.[9] In the last line of the same stanza--

  A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings,

--the word 'blush' makes the colour seem to come and go, while the mind
is at the same time sent travelling from the maiden's chamber on
thoughts of her lineage and ancestral fame. Observation, I believe,
shows that moonlight has not the power to transmit the separate hues of
painted glass as Keats in this celebrated passage represents it, but
fuses them into a kind of neutral or indiscriminate opaline shimmer. Let
us be grateful for the error, if error it is, which has led him to
heighten, by these saintly splendours of colour, the sentiment of a
scene wherein a voluptuous glow is so exquisitely attempered with
chivalrous chastity and awe. If any reader wishes to realise how the
genius of Elizabethan romantic poetry re-awoke in Keats, and how much
enriched and enhanced, after two hundred years, let him compare all this
scene of Madeline's unrobing with the passage from Brown's _Britannia's
Pastorals_ which was probably in his memory when he wrote it (see above,
p. 98).

When Madeline unclasps her jewels, a weaker poet would have dwelt on
their lustre or other visible qualities: Keats puts those aside, and
speaks straight to our spirits in an epithet breathing with the very
life of the wearer,--'Her warmèd jewels.' When Porphyro spreads the
feast of dainties beside his sleeping mistress, we are made to feel how
those ideal and rare sweets of sense surround and minister to her, not
only with their own natural richness, but with the associations and the
homage of all far countries whence they have been gathered--

  From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.

Concerning this sumptuous passage of the spread feast of fruits, not
unequally rivalling the famous one in Milton,[10] Leigh Hunt has some
interesting things to say in his _Autobiography_[11]:--

  I remember Keats reading to me, with great relish and particularity,
  conscious of what he had set forth, the lines describing the supper
  and ending with the words,

    And lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon.

  Mr Wordsworth would have said the vowels were not varied enough; but
  Keats knew where his vowels were _not_ to be varied. On the occasion
  above alluded to, Wordsworth found fault with the repetition of the
  concluding sound of the participles in Shakespeare's line about
  bees:--

    The _singing_ masons _building_ roofs of gold.

  This, he said, was a line which Milton would never have written. Keats
  thought, on the other hand, that the repetition was in harmony with
  the continued note of the singers, and that Shakespeare's negligence,
  if negligence it was, had instinctively felt the thing in the best
  manner.

The reader will remember how Bailey records this subject of the musical
and emotional effect of vowel sounds, open and close, varied or iterated
as the case might be, as one on which Keats's talk had often run at
Oxford. Whatever his theories, he was by this time showing himself as
fine a master of such effects as any, even the greatest, of our poets.
This same passage, or interlude, of the feast of fruits has despite its
beauty been sometimes blamed as a 'digression.' A stanza which in
Keats's original draft stood near the beginning of the poem shows that
in his mind it was no mere ornament and no digression at all, but an
essential part of his scheme. In revision he dropped out this stanza,
doubtless as being not up to the mark poetically: pity that he did not
rather perfect it and let it keep its place: but even as it is the
provision of the dainties made beforehand by the old nurse at Porphyro's
request (stanza xx) proves the feast essential to the story.

While the unique charm of _The Eve of St Agnes_ lies thus in the
richness and vitality of the accessory and decorative images, the
actions and emotions of the personages are not less happily conceived as
far as they go. What can be better touched than the figures of the
beadsman and the old nurse Angela? How admirable in particular is the
debate held by Angela with Porphyro in her

                           little moonlight room
  Pale, lattic'd, chill, and silent as a tomb.

Madeline, a figure necessarily in the main passive, is none the less
exquisite, whether in her gentle dealing with the nurse on the
staircase, or when closing her chamber door she pants with quenched
taper in the moonlight, and most of all when awakening she finds her
lover beside her, and contrasts his bodily presence with her dream:--

  'Ah, Porphyro!' said she, 'but even now
  Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
  Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
  And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
  How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
  Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
  Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!'[12]

In all the doings and circumstances attending the departure of the
lovers for a destination left thrillingly vague in the words, 'For o'er
the southern moors I have a home for thee,'[13]--in the elfin storm sent
to cover their flight (the only touch of the supernatural in the story),
their darkling grope down the stairway, the hush that holds the house
and guest-chambers, the wind-shaken arras, the porter sprawling asleep
beside his empty flagon, the awakened bloodhound who recognizes his
mistress and is quiet--in Keats's telling of all these things a like
unflagging richness and felicity of imagination holds us spell-bound:
and with the deaths of the old nurse and beadsman, once the house has
lost its spirit of life and light in Madeline, the poet brings round the
tale, after all its glow of passionate colour and music, of trembling
anticipation and love-worship enraptured or in suspense, to a chill and
wintry close in subtlest harmony with its beginning:--

    They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
    Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
    Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
    With a huge empty flaggon by his side:
    The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
    But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
    By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:
    The chains lie silent on the footworn stones;
  The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.

    And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
    These lovers fled away into the storm.
    That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
    And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
    Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
    Were long be-nightmar'd. Angela the old
    Died palsy-twitch'd, with meagre face deform;
    The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
  For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.[14]

The last of the trio of Keats's tales in verse, _Lamia_, owed its
origin, and perhaps part of its temper, to his readings in Burton's
_Anatomy of Melancholy_. His own experiences under the stings of love
and jealousy had led him, during those spring months of 1819 when he
could write nothing, to pore much over the treatise of that prodigiously
read, satiric old commentator on the maladies of the human mind and
body, and especially over those sections of it which deal with the cause
and cure of love-melancholy. Entertainment in abundance, information in
cartloads, Keats could draw from the matter accumulated and glossed by
Burton, but little or nothing to gladden or soothe or fortify him. One
story, however, he found which struck his imagination so much that he
was moved to write upon it, and that was the old Greek story, quoted by
Burton from Philostratus, of _Lamia_ the serpent-lady, at once witch and
victim of witchcraft, who loved a youth of Corinth and lived with him in
a palace of delights built by her magic, until their happiness was
shattered by the scrutiny of intrusive and coldblooded wisdom.

In June 1819, soon after the inspiration which produced the Odes had
passed away, and before he left Hampstead for the Isle of Wight, Keats
made a beginning on this new task; continued it at intervals,
concurrently with his attempts in drama, at Shanklin and Winchester; and
finished it by the first week in September. It happened that Thomas Love
Peacock had published the year before a tale in verse on a nearly
similar theme,--that of the beautiful Thessalian enchantress
Rhododaphne: one wonders whether Keats may not have felt in Peacock's
attempt a challenge and stimulus to his own. Peacock's work, now unduly
neglected, is that of an accomplished scholar and craftsman sitting down
to tell an old Greek tale of magic in the form of narrative verse then
most fashionable, the mixed four-stressed couplet and ballad measure of
Scott and Byron, and telling it, for a poet not of genius, gracefully
and well. Whether Keats's _Lamia_ is a work of genius there is no need
to ask. No one can deny the truth of his own criticism of it when he
says, 'I am certain there is that sort of fire in it which must take
hold of people in some way--give them either pleasant or unpleasant
sensation.' But personally I cannot agree with the opinion of the late
Francis Turner Palgrave and other critics--I think they are the
majority--who give it the first place among the tales. On the contrary,
if an order of merit among them there must be, I should put it third and
lowest, for several reasons of detail as well as for one reason
affecting the whole design and composition.

As to the technical qualities of the poetry, let it be granted that
Keats's handling of the heroic couplet, modelled this time on the
example of Dryden and not of the Elizabethans, though retaining pleasant
traces of the Elizabethan usages of the over-run or _enjambement_ and
the varied pause,--let it be granted that his handling of this mode of
the metre is masterly. Let it be admitted also that there are passages
in the narrative imagined as intensely as any in _Isabella_ or _The Eve
of St Agnes_ and told quite as vividly in a style more rapid and
condensed. Such is the passage, in the introductory episode which fills
so large a relative place in the poem, where Mercury woos and wins his
wood-nymph after Lamia has lifted from her the spell of invisibility.
Such is the gorgeous, agonized transformation act of Lamia herself from
serpent to woman: such again the scene of her waylaying and ensnaring of
the youth on his way to Corinth. And such above all would be the whole
final scene of the banquet and its break-up, from 'Soft went the music
with soft air along' to the end, but for the perplexing apostrophe,
presently to be considered, which interrupts it. Still counting up the
things in the poem to be most praised, here is an example where the
poetry of Greek mythology is very eloquently woven into the rhetoric of
love:--

  Leave thee alone! Look back! Ah! goddess, see
  Whether my eyes can ever turn from thee!
  For pity do not this sad heart belie--
  Even as thou vanishest so I shall die.
  Stay! though a Naiad of the rivers, stay!
  To thy far wishes will thy streams obey:
  Stay! though the greenest woods be thy domain,
  Alone they can drink up the morning rain:
  Though a descended Pleiad, will not one
  Of thine harmonious sisters keep in tune
  Thy spheres, and as thy silver proxy shine?

And here a beautiful instance of power and justness in scenic
imagination:--

  As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all,
  Throughout her palaces imperial,
  And all her populous streets and temples lewd,
  Mutter'd, like tempest in the distance brew'd,
  To the wide-spreaded night above her towers.
  Men, women, rich and poor, in the cool hours,
  Shuffled their sandals o'er the pavement white,
  Companion'd or alone; while many a light
  Flar'd here and there, from wealthy festivals,
  And threw their moving shadows on the walls,
  Or found them cluster'd in the cornic'd shade
  Of some arch'd temple door, or dusty colonnade.

Turning now to the other side of the account: for one thing, we find
jarring and disappointing notes, such as had disappeared from Keats's
works since _Endymion_, of the old tasteless manner of the Hunt-taught
days: for instance the unpalatable passage in the first book beginning
'Let the mad poets say whate'er they please,' and worse still, with a
new note of idle cynicism added, the lines about love which open the
second book. Misplaced archaisms also reappear, such as 'unshent' and
the participle 'daft,' from the obsolete verb 'daff,' used as though it
meant to puzzle or daze; with bad verbal coinages like 'piazzian,'
'psalterian.' Moreover, though many things in the poem are potently
conceived, others are not so. The description of the magical palace-hall
is surely a failure, except for the one fine note in the lines,--

  A haunting music, sole perhaps and lone
  Supporters of the faery-roof, made moan
  Throughout, as fearful the whole charm might fade.

The details of the structure, with its pairs of palms and plantains
carved in cedar-wood, its walls lined with mirrors, its panels which
change magically from plain marble to jasper, its fifty censers and
'Twelve sphered tables, by twelve seats insphered,'--all this seems
feebly and even tastelessly invented in comparison with the impressive
dream-architecture in some of Keats's other poems: I will even go
farther, and say that it scarce holds its own against the not much
dissimilar magic hall in the sixth canto of _Rhododaphne_.

But the one fundamental flaw in _Lamia_ concerns its moral. The word is
crude: what I mean is the bewilderment in which it leaves us as to the
effect intended to be made on our imaginative sympathies. Lamia is a
serpent-woman, baleful and a witch, whose love for Lycius fills him with
momentary happiness but must, we are made aware, be fatal to him.
Apollonius is a philosopher who sees through her and by one steadfast
look withers up her magic semblance and destroys her, but in doing so
fails to save his pupil, who dies the moment his illusion vanishes. Are
these things a bitter parable, meaning that all love-joys are but
deception, and that at the touch of wisdom and experience they melt
away? If so, the tale might have been told either tragically or
satirically, in either case leaving the reader impartial as between the
sage and his victim. But Keats in this apostrophe, which I wish he had
left out, deliberately points a moral and expressly invites us to take
sides:--

  What wreath for Lamia? What for Lycius?
  What for the sage, old Apollonius?
  Upon her aching forehead be there hung
  The leaves of willow and of adder's tongue;
  And for the youth, quick, let us strip for him
  The thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swim
  Into forgetfulness; and, for the sage,
  Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage
  War on his temples. Do not all charms fly
  At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
  There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
  We know her woof, her texture; she is given
  In the dull catalogue of common things.
  Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
  Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
  Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine--
  Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
  The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.

These lines to my mind have not only the fault of breaking the story at
a critical point and anticipating its issue, but challenge the mind to
untimely questionings and reflections. The wreaths of ominous growth
distributed to each of the three personages may symbolize the general
tragedy: but why are we asked to take sides with the enchantress,
ignoring everything about her except her charm, and against the sage? If
she were indeed a thing of bale under a mask of beauty, was not the
friend and tutor bound to unmask her? and if the pupil could not survive
the loss of his illusion,--if he could not confront the facts of life
and build up for himself a new happiness on a surer foundation,--was it
not better that he should be let perish? Is there not in all this a
slackening of imaginative and intellectual grasp? And especially as to
the last lines, do we not feel that they are but a cheap and
unilluminating repetition of a rather superficial idea, the idea phrased
shortly in Campbell's _Rainbow_ and at length in several well-known
passages of Wordsworth's _Excursion_, particularly that in the fifth
book beginning--

                               Ambitious spirits!--
  Whom earth, at this late season, hath produced
  To regulate the moving spheres, and weigh
  The planets in the hollow of their hand;
  And they who rather dive than soar, whose pains
  Have solved the elements, or analysed
  The thinking principle--shall they in fact
  Prove a degraded Race?

Wordsworth had fifteen years earlier written more wisely, 'Poetry is the
impassioned expression in the countenance of all science.' The
latter-day Wordsworth, and Keats after him, should have realised that
the discoveries of 'philosophy,' meaning science, create new mysteries
while they solve the old, and leave the world as full of poetry as they
found it: poetry, it may be, with its point of view shifted, poetry of a
new kind, but none the less poetical. Leigh Hunt, in his review of
_Lamia_ published on the appearance of the volume, has some remarks
partly justifying and partly impugning Keats's treatment of the story in
this respect:--

  Mr Keats has departed as much from common-place in the character and
  moral of this story, as he has in the poetry of it. He would see fair
  play to the serpent, and makes the power of the philosopher an
  ill-natured and disturbing thing. Lamia though liable to be turned
  into painful shapes had a soul of humanity; and the poet does not see
  why she should not have her pleasures accordingly, merely because a
  philosopher saw that she was not a mathematical truth. This is fine
  and good. It is vindicating the greater philosophy of poetry.

So far, this is a manifest piece of special pleading by Hunt on Lamia's
behalf. If she is nothing worse than a being with a soul of humanity
liable to be turned into painful shapes, why must Apollonius feel it his
duty to wither and destroy her for the safeguarding of his pupil, even
at the cost of that pupil's life? Her witchcraft must consist in
something much worse than not being a mathematical truth, else why is he
her so bitter enemy? Hunt proceeds, more to the purpose, to protest
against the poet's implication--

  that modern experiment has done a deadly thing to poetry by
  discovering the nature of the rainbow, the air, etc., that is to say,
  that the knowledge of natural history and physics, by shewing us the
  nature of things, does away with the imaginations that once adorned
  them. This is a condescension to a learned vulgarism, which so
  excellent a poet as Mr Keats ought not to have made. The world will
  always have fine poetry, so long as it has events, passions,
  affections, and a philosophy that sees deeper than this philosophy.
  There will be a poetry of the heart, so long as there are tears and
  smiles: there will be a poetry of the imagination, as long as the
  first causes of things remain a mystery. A man who is no poet, may
  think he is none, as soon as he finds out the physical cause of the
  rainbow; but he need not alarm himself:--he was none before. The true
  poet will go deeper. He will ask himself what is the cause of that
  physical cause; whether truths to the senses are after all to be taken
  as truths to the imagination; and whether there is not room and
  mystery enough in the universe for the creation of infinite things,
  when the poor matter-of-fact philosopher has come to the end of his
  own vision.

In _Endymion_ Keats had impeded and confused his narrative by working
into it much incident and imagery symbolic of the cogitations and
aspirations, the upliftings and misgivings, of his own unripe spirit.
Three years later, writing to Shelley from his sickbed, he contrasts
that former state of his mind with its present state, saying that it was
then like a scattered pack of cards but is now sorted to a pip. The
three tales just discussed, written in the interval, show how quickly
the power of sorting and controlling his imaginations had matured itself
in him. In them he is already an artist standing outside of his own
conceptions, certain of his own aim in dealing with them (subject
perhaps to some reservation in the case of _Lamia_), and scarcely
letting his personal self intrude upon his narrative at all to
complicate or distract it.

For the expression of his private moods and meditations he had perfected
during the same interval a new and beautiful vehicle in the ode. He had
been accustomed to try his hand at odes, or what he called such, from
his earliest riming days: and odes also, to all intents and purposes,
are the two great lyrics in _Endymion_, the choral hymn to Pan and the
song of the Indian maiden to Sorrow. But those which he composed in
quick succession, as we have seen, in the late spring of 1819 are of a
reflective and meditative type, new in his work and highly personal.

That which I have shown reason for believing to be the earliest of the
group, the _Ode to Psyche_ written in the last days of April, differs
somewhat from the rest both in form and spirit. Its strophes are longer
and more irregular: its strain less inward and brooding, with more of
lyric ardour and exaltation. It tells of the poet's delight in that
late, exquisitely and spiritually symbolic product of the mythologic
spirit of expiring paganism, the story of Cupid and Psyche. What may
have especially turned his attention to this fable at that moment we
cannot tell. Possibly the mention of it in Burton's _Anatomy_ may have
set him on to reading the original source, the _Golden Ass_ of Apuleius,
in Adlington's translation: there are passages in _Lamia_ which suggest
such a reading,[15] and the noble, rhythmical English of that
Elizabethan version, loose as it may be in point of scholarship, could
not fail to charm his ear. Or possibly recent study of the plates in the
_Musée Napoléon_ (as to which more by and by) may have brought freshly
to his memory the sculptured group in which the story is embodied. But
that he had always loved the story we know from the passage 'I stood
tip-toe' beginning--

  So felt he, who first told how Psyche went
  On the smooth wind to realms of wonderment,

as well as from his confession that in boyhood he used to admire its
languid and long-drawn romantic treatment in the poem of Mrs Tighe.

Cloying touches of languor, such as often disfigure his own earlier
work, are not wanting in the opening lines in which he tells how he came
upon the fabled couple in a dream, but are more than compensated by the
charm of the scene where he finds them reposing, 'Mid hush'd,
cool-rooted flowers fragrant-eyed.' What other poet has compressed into
a single line so much of the essential virtue of flowers, of their power
to minister to the spirit of man through all his senses at once? Such
felicity in compound epithets is by this time habitual with Keats; and
of Spenser with his 'sea-shouldering whales' he is now more than the
equal. The 'azure-lidded sleep' of the maiden in _St Agnes' Eve_ is
matched in this ode by the 'soft-conchèd ear' of Psyche,--though the
compound is perhaps a little forced and odd, like the 'cirque-couchant'
snake in _Lamia_. The invocation in the third and fourth stanzas
expresses, with the fullest reach of Keats's felicity in style and a
singular freshness and fire of music in the verse, both his sense of the
meaning of Greek nature-religion and his delight in imagining the beauty
of its shrines and ritual. For the rest, there seems at first something
strained in the turn of thought and expression whereby the poet offers
himself and the homage of his own mind to the divinity he addresses, in
lieu of the worship of antiquity for which she came too late; and
especially in the terms of the metaphor which opens the famous fourth
stanza:--

  Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane
    In some untrodden region of my mind,
  Where branched thoughts, new-blown with pleasant pain,
    Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.

But in a moment we are carried beyond criticism by that incomparable
distillation of one, or many, of his impressions among the Lakes or in
Scotland,--

  Far, far around shall those dark-cluster'd trees
  Fledge the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep.

For such a master-stroke of concentrated imaginative description no
praise, much as has been showered on it by Ruskin and lesser critics,
can be too great.

Keats declares to his brother that this is the first of his poems with
which he has taken even moderate pains. That being so, it is remarkable
that he should have let stand in it as many as three unrimed
line-endings: and what the poem truly bears in upon the reader is a
sense less of special care and finish than of special glow and ardour,
till he is left breathless and delighted at the threshold of the
sanctuary prepared by the 'gardener Fancy,' his mind enthralled by the
imagery and his ear by the verse, with its swift, mounting music and
rich, vehemently iterated assonances towards the close:--

  A rosy sanctuary will I dress
  With the wreath'd trellis of a working brain,
    With buds, and bells, and stars without a name,
  With all the gardener Fancy e'er could feign,
    With breeding flowers, will never breed the same;
  And thither will I bring all soft delights
    That shadowy thought can win,
  A bright torch, and a casement ope at nights,
    To let the warm Love in!

The four remaining spring odes are slower-paced, as becomes their more
musing tenour, and are all written in a succession of stanzas repeated
uniformly or with slight variations. Throughout them all each stanza is
of ten lines and five rimes, the first and second rimes arranged in a
quatrain, the third, fourth and fifth in a sestet: the order of rimes in
the sestet varying in the different odes, and in one, the nightingale
ode, the third line from the end being shortened so as to have three
stresses instead of five.

Let us take first the two in which the imagery has been suggested to the
poet by works of Greek sculpture whether seen or imagined. In the _Ode
on Indolence_ Keats merely revives his memory of a special type of Greek
marble urn where draped figures of women, Seasons, it may be, or
priestesses, walk with joined hands behind a solemn Bacchus, or priest
in the god's guise (see Plate viii, p. 342),--he merely evokes this
memory in order to describe the way in which certain symbolic personages
have seemed in a day-dream to pass before him and re-pass and again
re-pass, appearing and disappearing as the embossed figures on such an
urn may be made to do by turning it round. From the 'man and two women'
of the March letter they are changed to three women, whom at first he
does not recognize; but seeing presently who they are, namely Love,
Ambition, and that 'maiden most unmeek,' his 'demon Poesy,' he for a
moment longs for wings to follow and overtake them. The longing passes,
and in his relaxed mood he feels that none of the three holds any joy
for him--

                       so sweet as drowsy noons,
  And evenings steep'd in honey'd indolence.

They come by once more, and again, barely aroused from the sweets of
outdoor slumber and the spring afternoon, he will not so much as lift
his head from where he lies, but bids them farewell and sees them depart
without a tear.

Keats did not print this ode, thinking it perhaps not good enough or
else too intimately personal. But writing to Miss Jeffrey a few weeks
after it was composed, he tells her it is the thing he has most enjoyed
writing this year. It is indeed a pleasant, lovingly meditated revival
and casting into verse of the imagery which had come freshly into his
mind when he wrote to his brother of his fit of languor in the previous
March. It contains some powerful and many exquisite lines, but only one
perfect stanza, the fifth: and there are slacknesses--shall we say
lazinesses--in the execution, as where the need for rimes to 'noons' and
'indolence' prompts the all-too commonplace prayer--

  That I may never know how change the moons,
  Or hear the voice of busy common-sense;

or where, thinking contemptuously of the old 'intercoronation' days with
Leigh Hunt, he declines, in truly Cockney rime, to raise his head from
the flowery _grass_ in order to be fed with praise and become 'a
pet-lamb in a sentimental _farce_.'

In bidding the phantoms of this day-dream adieu, Keats avows that there
are others yet haunting him, and while imagery drawn from the sculptures
on Greek vases was still floating through his mind, he was able to rouse
himself to a stronger effort and produce a true masterpiece in his
famous _Ode on a Grecian Urn_. It is no single or actually existing
specimen of Attic handicraft that he celebrates in this ode, but a
composite conjured up instinctively in his mind out of several such
known to him in reality or from engravings. During and after those
hour-long silent reveries among the museum marbles of which Severn tells
us, the creative spirit within him will have been busy almost unaware
combining such images and re-combining them. Cricitism can plausibly
analyse this creation into its several elements. In calling the scene a
'leaf-fringed legend' Keats will have remembered that the necks and
shoulders of this kind of urn are regularly encircled by bands of
leaf-pattern ornament. The idea of a sacrifice and a Bacchic dance being
figured together in one frieze, a thing scarcely elsewhere to be found,
will have come to him from the well known vase of Sosibios (so called
from the name of the sculptor inscribed upon it), from the print of
which in the _Musée Napoléon_ there actually exists a tracing by his
hand.[16] But this is a serene and ceremonial composition: for the
tumult and 'wild ecstasy' of his imagined frieze, the 'pipes and
timbrels,' the 'mad pursuit,' he will have had store of visions ready in
his mind, from the Bacchanal pictures of Poussin, no doubt also from
Bacchic vases like that fine one in the Townley collection at the
British Museum and the nearly allied Borghese vase: while for the

                --heifer lowing at the skies
  And all her silken flanks in garlands drest,

as well as for the thought of the pious morn and the little town
emptied of its folk that old deep impression received from Claude's
'Sacrifice to Apollo' will have been reinforced by others from works of
sculpture easy to guess at: most of all, naturally, from the sacrificial
processions in the Parthenon frieze.

[Illustration: PL XI

THE SOSIBIOS VASE

PROFILE AND FRIEZE: FROM ENGRAVINGS IN THE MUSÉE NAPOLEON]

In the ode we read how the sculptured forms of such an imaginary
antique, visualized in full intensity before his mind's eye, have set
his thoughts to work, on the one hand asking himself what living, human
scenes of ancient custom and worship lay behind them, and on the other
hand speculating upon the abstract relations of plastic art to life. The
opening invocation is followed by a string of questions which flash
their own answer upon us--interrogatories which are at the same time
pictures,--'What men or gods are these, what maidens loth?' etc. The
second and third stanzas express with full felicity and insight the
differences between life, which pays for its unique prerogative of
reality by satiety and decay, and art, which in forfeiting reality gains
in exchange permanence of beauty, and the power to charm by imagined
experiences even richer than the real. The thought thrown by Leonardo da
Vinci into a single line--'Cosa bella mortal passa e non d'arte'--and
expanded by Wordsworth in his later days into the sonnet, 'Praised be
the art,' etc., finds here its most perfect utterance.

  Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
  And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
  More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
      For ever panting, and for ever young;
  All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
      A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Then the questioning begins again, and again conjures up a choice of
pictures,--

  What little town by river or sea shore,
    Or mountain built with peaceful citadel,
      Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

In the answering lines of the sestet--

  And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
      Why thou art desolate, can e'er return,--

in these lines we find that the poet's imagination has suddenly and
lightly shifted its ground, and chooses to view the arrest of life as
though it were an infliction in the sphere of reality, and not merely,
like the instances of such arrest given farther back, a necessary
condition in the sphere of art, having in that sphere its own
compensations. Finally, dropping such airy play of the mind backward and
forward between the two spheres, he consigns the work of ancient skill
to the future, to remain,--

                           in midst of other woe
  Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
    Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--

thus re-asserting his old doctrine, 'What the imagination seizes as
beauty must be truth'; a doctrine which amidst the gropings of reason
and the flux of things is to the poet and artist--at least to one of
Keats's temper--the one anchorage to which his soul can and needs must
cleave.

[Illustration: PL. XII

'What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy'

A. FROM THE TOWNLY VASE IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM

B. FROM THE BORGHESE VASE IN THE LOUVRE]

Let us turn now to the second pair--for as such I regard them--of odes
written in May-time, those _To a Nightingale_ and _On Melancholy_. Like
the _Ode on Indolence_, the nightingale ode begins with the confession
of a mood of 'drowsy numbness,' but this time one deeper and nearer to
pain and heartache. Then invoking the nightingale, the poet attributes
his mood not to envy of her song (perhaps, as Mr Bridges has suggested,
there may be here an under-reminiscence from William Browne[17]), but to
excess of happiness in it. Just as his Grecian urn was no single
specimen of antiquity that he had seen, so it is not the particular
nightingale he had heard singing in the Hampstead garden that Keats thus
invokes, but a type of the race imagined as singing in some far-off
scene of woodland mystery and beauty. Thither he sighs to follow her:
first by aid of the spell of some southern vintage--a spell which he
makes us realize in lines redolent, as are none others in our language,
of the southern richness and joy which he had never known save in
dreams. Then follows a contrasted vision of all his own and mankind's
tribulations which he will leave behind him. Nay, he needs not the aid
of Bacchus,--Poetry alone shall transport him. For a moment he mistrusts
her power, but the next moment finds himself where he would be,
listening to the imagined song in the imagined woodland, and divining in
the darkness all the secrets of the season and the night. While thus
rapt he remembers how often the thought of death has seemed welcome to
him, and feels that it would be more richly welcome now than ever. The
nightingale would not cease to sing--and by this time, though he calls
her 'immortal bird,' what he has truly in mind is not the song-bird at
all, but the bird-song, thought of as though it were a thing
self-existing and apart, imperishable through the ages. So thinking, he
contrasts its permanence with the transitoriness of human life, meaning
the life of the generations of individual men and women who have
listened to it. This last thought leads him off into the ages, whence he
brings back those memorable touches of far-off Bible and legendary
romance in the stanza closing with the words 'in faery lands forlorn':
and then, catching up his own last word, 'forlorn,' with an abrupt
change of mood and meaning, he returns to daily consciousness, and with
the fading away of his forest dream the poem closes.

Throughout this ode Keats's genius is at its height. Imagination cannot
be more rich and satisfying, felicity of phrase and cadence cannot be
more absolute, than in the several contrasted stanzas calling for the
draft of southern vintage, picturing the frailty and wretchedness of
man's estate on earth, and conjecturing in the 'embalmed darkness' the
divers odours of spring. To praise the art of a passage like that in the
fourth stanza where with a light, lingering pause the mind is carried
instantaneously away from the miseries of the world into the heart of
the imagined forest,--to praise or comment on a stroke of art like this
is to throw doubt on the reader's power to perceive it for himself. Let
him be trusted to cherish and know the poem, as every lover of English
poetry should, 'to its depths,' and let us go on to the last product, as
I take it to be, of this spring month of inspiration, and that is the
_Ode on Melancholy_.

The music of the word--its hundred associations derived from the early
seventeenth-century poetry in which his soul was steeped--foremost among
them no doubt Milton's _L'Allegro_ and _Il Penseroso_, with the
beautiful song from Fletcher's _Nice Valour_ which inspired them--his
recent familiarity with Burton's _Anatomy_, including those pithy
stanzas of alternate praise and repudiation which preface it--all these
things will have worked together with Keats's own haunting and deepest
mood throughout these days to set him composing on this theme,
Melancholy. He had dallied with an idea of doing so as far back as early
in March, when being kept from writing both by physical disinclination
and a temporary phase of self-criticism, he had written to Haydon, 'I
will not spoil my gloom by writing an ode to Darkness.' Now that in May
the springs of inspiration were again unlocked in him, such negative
purpose fails to hold, and he adds this ode to the rest, throwing into
it some of his most splendid imagery and diction. Its temper is nearly
akin on the one hand to some of the gloomier passages in his letters to
Miss Jeffrey of May 31 and June 9, and on the other to the tragic third
stanza of the nightingale ode. Its main purport is to proclaim the
spiritual nearness, the all but inseparableness, of joy and pain in
human experience when either is present in its intensity. One of the
attributes, it will be remembered, which he assigns to his enchantress
_Lamia_ is--

                           a sciential brain
  To unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain.

In no nature have the sources of the two lain deeper or closer together
than in his own, and it is from the fullness of impassioned experience
that he writes. The real melancholy, he insists, is not that which
belongs to things sad or direful in themselves. Having written two
stanzas piling up gruesome images of such things, and discarded on
reflection the former and more gruesome of the two, he lets the second
stand, and goes on, evoking contrasted images of opulent beauty, to show
how the true, the utter melancholy is that which is inextricably coupled
with every joy and resides at the heart of every pleasure: ending
magnificently--

  Ay, in the very temple of Delight
    Veiled Melancholy has her sovereign shrine,
      Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
    Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
  His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
      And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

One more ode remains, written in a different key and after a lapse of
some four months, during which Keats had been away in the country,
quieted by absence from the object of his passion and working diligently
at _Otho the Great_ and _Lamia._ This is the ode _To Autumn_. He was
alone at Winchester, rejoicing in perfect September weather and in a
mood more serene and contented than he had known for long or was ever to
know again. 'How beautiful the season is now,' he writes to Reynolds,
'how fine the air--a temperate sharpness about it. Really, without
joking, chaste weather--Dian skies. I never liked stubble fields so much
as now--aye, better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a
stubble plain looks warm, in the same way that some pictures look warm.
This struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it.'
The vein in which he composed is one of simple objectivity, very
different from the passionate and complex phases of introspective
thought and feeling which inspired the spring odes. The result is the
most Greek thing, except the fragment _To Maia_, which Keats ever wrote.
It opens up no such far-reaching avenues to the mind and soul of the
reader as the odes _To a Grecian Urn_, _To a Nightingale_, or _To
Melancholy_, but in execution is more complete and faultless than any of
them. In the first stanza the bounty, in the last the pensiveness, of
the time are expressed in words so transparent and direct that we almost
forget they are words at all, and nature herself and the season seem
speaking to us: while in the middle stanza the touches of literary art
and Greek personification have an exquisite congruity and ease. Keats
himself has hardly anywhere else written with so fine a subtlety of
nature-observation. Students of form will notice a slight deviation from
that of the spring odes, by which the second member of the stanza is now
a septet instead of a sestet, one of its rimes being repeated three
times instead of twice.

  Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
  Conspiring with him how to load and bless
    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
  To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
    And still more, later flowers for the bees,
    Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

  Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
  Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
  Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
    Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
  And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
    Steady thy laden head across a brook;
    Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

  Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
  While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
    And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
  Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
  And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Had Keats been destined to know health and peace of mind, who can guess
how much more work in this vein and of this quality the world might have
owed to him?


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] _Thoughts suggested on the banks of Nith, near the poet's
    residence_: the third poem in _Memorials of a Tour in Scotland_.

  [2] First printed in Hunt's _Reflector_ and reprinted in the
    two-volume edition of Lamb's works published in 1818.

  [3] A copy of Fairfax's Tasso appears in the list of books left by
    Keats at his death.

  [4] This point has been made by Mr Buxton Forman, _Complete Works of
    J.K._, ii. p. 41, footnote.

  [5] I let this paragraph, somewhat officious and over-explanatory
    though it now seems to me, stand as I wrote it thirty years ago, for
    the sake of the pleasure I have since had in learning that the
    identical passage was singled out by Charles Lamb, in a notice which
    has only lately come to light, (see below, p. 471) as the pick of the
    whole _Lamia_ volume.

  [6] That published by Allen Awnmarsh, 5th ed. 1684, notes Woodhouse;
    and a copy of the same is noted in the list of Keats's books.

  [7] See article by H. Noble M'Cracken in _Philological Journal_ of
    the Chicago University, 1908. The romance of _Floire and
    Blancheflor_, which Boccaccio in the _Filocolo_ expands with
    additions and inventions of his own, tells the story of a Moorish
    prince in Spain and a Christian damsel, brought up together and
    loving each other as children and thrown apart in maturity by adverse
    influences and ill fortune. After many chivalric and fantastic
    adventures both in West and East, of the kind usual in such romances,
    judicial combats, captures by corsairs, warnings by a magic ring and
    the like, Floire learns that Blancheflor is immured with other ladies
    in an impregnable tower by the 'Admiral of Babylon,' who desires to
    marry her. To Babylon Floire follows, cajoles the guardian of the
    tower and one of her damsels to admit him to her chamber concealed in
    a basket of roses: whence issuing, he and she are brought to one
    another's arms in happiness; various other adventures ensuing before
    they can be finally free and united. There exists a fragmentary
    English medieval version of this romance, which might easily have
    been known to Keats from the abstract and quotations given by George
    Ellis in his _Specimens of Early English Metrical Romance_ (1806).
    But unluckily neither this nor, apparently, any version of the
    original French romance poem contains those incidents recounted in
    the _Filocolo_ to which Keats's poem runs most closely parallel.
    These we must accordingly suppose to be Boccaccio's own invention and
    to have been known to Keats, directly or indirectly, from the
    _Filocolo_ itself.

  [8] In both the chapel monuments and the banquet-hall corbels there
    may be a memory of the following passage from Cary's _Dante_ (quoted
    by Mr Buxton Forman and Prof. de Sélincourt):--

      As to support incumbent floor or roof,
      For corbel is a figure sometimes seen
      That crumples up its knees into its breast;
      With the feign'd posture, stirring ruth unfeign'd
      In the beholder's fancy; so I saw
      These fashion'd--.

  [9] It may be noted that in the corresponding scene in the _Filocolo_
    a single special colour effect is got by describing the room as lit
    up by two great pendent self-luminous carbuncles.

  [10] _Paradise Lost_, v. 341-347.

  [11] Ed. 1860, pp. 269, 270.

  [12] The final couplet of this stanza, as Keats wrote it after
    several attempts, is weak. Madeline continues,--

      Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
      For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go.

    In the alternative version, intended to leave no doubt of what had
    happened, which he read to Woodhouse and Woodhouse disapproved,
    Madeline's speech breaks off and the poet in his own name adds,--

      See while she speaks his arms encroaching slow
      Have zon'd her, heart to heart,--loud, loud, the dark winds blow.

  [13] Keats, mentally placing his story in England and writing it at
    Teignmouth, had at first turned this line otherwise,--'For o'er the
    bleak Dartmoor I have a home for thee.'

  [14] A critic, not often so in error, has contended that the death of
    the beadsman and Angela in the concluding stanza are due to the
    exigencies of rime. On the contrary, they are foreseen from the
    first: that of the beadsman in the lines,

      But no--already had his death-bell rung;
      The joys of all his life were said and sung;

    that of Angela where she calls herself

      A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
      Whose passing bell may ere the midnight toll.

    The touch of flippant realism which Keats had, again to Woodhouse's
    distress, proposed to throw into his story at this point was as
    follows. For the four last lines of the last stanza Keats had
    proposed to write,--

                                 Angela went off
        Twitch'd with the palsy: and with face deform
        The beadsman stiffen'd, 'twixt a sigh and laugh
      Ta'en sudden from his beads by one weak little cough.

    In printing the poem Keats, probably at the instance of Taylor and
    Woodhouse, reverted to the earlier and better version.

  [15] May the following be counted evidence to the same effect? The
    old woman in _Apuleius_, chap. xxi, just as she is about to tell her
    daughter the story of Cupid and Psyche, says, 'as the visions of the
    day are accounted false and untrue, so the visions of the night do
    often chance contrary.' Compare Keats at the end of the _Ode on
    Indolence_:--

      Farewell! I yet have visions for the night,
      And for the day faint visions there is store.

  [16] The _Musée Napoléon_ is a set of four volumes illustrating with
    outline engravings the works of classic art collected by Napoleon
    Bonaparte as spoils of war and brought to Paris. Keats's original
    tracing from the Sosibios vase was in the collection of Sir Charles
    Dilke and is reproduced on the frontispiece of the Clarendon Press
    edition of Keats's poems, 1906. The subject has been much discussed,
    but only from the point of view of the classical archaeologist, which
    ignores the part played by paintings as well as antiques in
    stimulating Keats's imagination. From that point of view the nearest
    approach, as I hold, to a right solution is set out in a paper by
    Paul Wolters, in _Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen_, Band
    xx, Heft 1/2: Braunschweig; though I think he is too positive in
    ruling out Roman representations of the _Suovetaurilia_ such as the
    fine urn at Holland House suggested as Keats's source by the late Mr
    A. S. Murray and reproduced in _The Odes of Keats_, by A. C. Downer,
    M.A. (Oxford, 1897).

  [17]
      Sweet Philomela (then he heard her sing)
      I do not envy thy sweet carolling,
      But do admire thee each even and morrow
      Canst carelessly thus sing away thy sorrow.



CHAPTER XIV

WORK OF 1818, 1819.--II. THE FRAGMENTS AND EXPERIMENTS

  Snatches expressive of moods--_Ode to Maia_--_Hyperion_: its scheme
  and scale--Sources: Homer and Hesiod--Pierre
  Ronsard--Miltonisms--Voices of the Titans--A match and no match for
  Milton--A great beginning--Question as to sequel--Difficulties and a
  suggestion--The scheme abandoned--_The Eve of St Mark_--Chaucer and
  Morris--Judgement of Rossetti--Dissent of W. B. Scott--The
  solution--Keats as dramatist--_Otho_ and _King Stephen_--_The Cap and
  Bells_--Why a failure--Flashes of Beauty--Recast of _Hyperion_--Its
  leading ideas--Their history in Keats's mind--Preamble: another feast
  of fruits--The sanctuary--The admonition--The monitress--The attempt
  breaks off.


Much of our clearest insight into Keats's mind and genius is gained from
the class of his fragments which do not represent any definite poetical
purpose or plan, and were never meant to be more than mere snatches and
momentary outpourings. Such, though they only express a passing mood,
are the lines in his letter to Reynolds of February 1818, translating
the early song of the thrush into a warning not to fret after knowledge.
Such is the contrasted passage of shifting, perplexed meditation on the
problems of life, and the failure of the imagination to solve them
alone, in the rimed epistle to the same friend six weeks later. Such,
very especially, is the cry declaring that the true poet is the soul
sympathetic with every form and mode of life and ready to merge its
identity in that of any and every sentient creature: compare the passage
in one of his letters where he tells how his own can enter into that of
a sparrow picking about the gravel:--

  Where's the Poet? show him! show him,
  Muses nine! that I may know him.
  'Tis the man who with a man
  Is an equal, be he King,
  Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
  Or any other wondrous thing
  A man may be'twixt ape and Plato;
  'Tis the man who with a bird,
  Wren, or Eagle, finds his way to
  All its instincts; he hath heard
  The Lion's roaring, and can tell
  What his horny throat expresseth,
  And to him the Tiger's yell
  Comes articulate and presseth
  On his ear like mother-tongue.

Such again are the several passages in which he expressed a mood that
frequently beset him, that of being rapt in spirit too high above earth
to breathe, too far above his body not to feel an awful intoxication and
fear of coming madness:--

  It is an awful mission,
  A terrible division;
  And leaves a gulph austere
  To be fill'd with worldly fear.
  Aye, when the soul is fled
  Too high above our head,
  Affrighted do we gaze
  After its airy maze,
  As doth a mother wild,
  When her young infant child
  Is in eagle's claws--
  And is not this the cause
  Of madness?--God of Song,
  Thou bearest me along
  Through sights I scarce can bear;
  O let me, let me share
  With the hot lyre and thee,
  The staid Philosophy.
  Temper my lonely hours,
  And let me see thy bowers
  More unalarm'd!

But our main business in this chapter must be not with illuminating
snatches such as these, but with things begun of set purpose and not
carried through.

When Keats, drawing near the end of his work on _Endymion_, was
meditating what he meant to be his second long and arduous poem,
_Hyperion_, he still thought and spoke of it as a 'romance.' But a
phrase he uses elsewhere shows him conscious that its style would have
to be more 'naked and Grecian' than that of _Endymion_. Was he trying an
experiment in the naked and Grecian style when on May day 1818 he wrote
at Teignmouth the beginning of an ode on Maia? He never went on with it,
and the fragment as it stands is of fourteen lines only; but these are
in a more truly Greek manner than anything else he wrote, not even
excepting, as I have just said, the _Ode to Autumn_. The words figuring
what Greek poets were and did for Greek communities, and expressing the
aspiration to be even as they, bear the true, the classic, mint-mark of
absolute economy and simplicity in absolute rightness. Considering how
meagre are the hints antiquity has left us concerning Maia, the eldest
of the Pleiades and mother of Hermes, and her late identification with
the Roman divinity to whom sacrifice was paid on the first of May, and
hence how little material for development the theme seems to
offer,--considering these things, perhaps it is as well that Keats,
despite his promise to finish it 'all in good time,' should have
tantalized posterity by breaking off this beautiful thing where he did.

The next fragment we come to is colossal,--it is _Hyperion_ itself. From
the poem as far as it was written no reader could guess either that it
was taken up as a 'feverous relief' from tendance on his dying brother,
or that in continuing it later under Brown's roof he had to put force
upon himself against the intrusion of private cares and affections upon
his thoughts, as well as against a reaction from his own mode of
conceiving and handling the task itself. The impression _Hyperion_ makes
is one, as Woodhouse on first reading it justly noted, of serene
mastery by the poet both over himself and over his art:--'It has an air
of calm grandeur about it which is indicative of true power': and
again,--'the above lines give but a faint idea of the sustained grandeur
and quiet power which characterize the poem.' Woodhouse goes on to tell
what he knew of the scheme of the work as Keats had first conceived
it:--

  The poem, if completed, would have treated of the dethronement of
  Hyperion, the former God of the Sun, by Apollo,--and incidentally of
  those of Oceanus by Neptune, of Saturn by Jupiter, etc., and of the
  war of the giants for Saturn's reestablishment-- with other events, of
  which we have but very dark hints in the mythological poets of Greece
  and Rome. In fact the incidents would have been pure creations of the
  Poet's brain.

The statement inserted by the publishers at the head of the volume in
which the poem appeared in 1820, that _Hyperion_ was intended to be as
long as _Endymion_, is probably also due to Woodhouse, their right-hand
man (Keats, we know, had nothing to do with it), and may represent what
he had gathered in conversation to have been the poet's original idea.
Mr de Sélincourt has shown grounds for inferring that when Keats came to
actual grips with the subject he decided to treat it much more briefly
and partially. Clearly the essential meaning of the story was for him
symbolical; it meant the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by
one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts held
a larger place beside ideas of nature and her brute powers. Into this
story the poet plunges, not even in the middle but near the close. When
his poem opens, the younger gods, the Olympians, have won their victory,
and the Titans, all except Hyperion, are already overthrown. In their
debate whether to fight again general despondency prevails, and only one
of the fallen, Enceladus, strikes a note of defiance; so that it seems
as if there were nothing left to tell except the coming defeat or
abdication of Hyperion in favour of Apollo. Hyperion, it is true, has
not yet spoken when we are called away from the council, and Keats
might have made him side with Enceladus and rouse his brethren to a
temporary renewal of the strife. Or leaving the Titans conquered, he
might, as Woodhouse suggests, have gone on to narrate the second
warfare, that waged against the Olympians not by them but later by the
Giants in revolt. In either case we should have seen the poet try his
hand, hitherto untested in such themes, on scenes of superhuman battle
and violence.

Woodhouse is right at any rate in saying that the hints for handling the
theme to be found in the ancient poets are few and uncertain, leaving a
modern writer free to invent most of his incidents for himself. Beyond
the bald notices in his classical dictionaries, Chapman's _Iliad_ would
have given Keats a picture of the dethroned Saturn: Chapman's Homer's
hymn to Apollo might have filled his imagination, even to overflowing,
with visions of the youth of that god in Delos,--'Chief isle of the
embowered Cyclades': Hesiod's _Theogony_ (which he had doubtless read in
the translation of Pope's butt and enemy, Thomas Cooke) would have
taught him more, but very confusedly, about the warfare of Gods, Titans,
and Giants in general, besides inspiring his vision of the den where the
Titans lie vanquished; while he would have gleaned other stray matters
from Sandys's notes on certain passages of Ovid. As far as his beloved
English poets are concerned, brief allusions occur in the _Faerie
Queene_ and in _Paradise Lost_, where Milton includes the fallen Titans
among the rebel hosts that flock to the standard of Satan in hell. But I
think the source freshest in his mind at the moment when he began to
write is one which has not hitherto been suggested, the ode of the
famous French Renaissance poet Ronsard to his friend Michel de
l'Hôpital. We know by his translation of the sonnet _Nature ornant
Cassandre_ that Keats had the works of Ronsard in his hands--lent, it
would seem, by Mr Taylor--exactly about this time. The ode in question,
partly founded on Hesiod, partly on Horace,[1] but largely on Ronsard's
own invention, relates the birth of the Muses, their training by their
mother Mémoire (= Mnemosyne), their desire as young girls to visit their
father Jupiter, their mother's consent, their undersea journey to the
palace of Oceanus where Jupiter is present at a high festival, their
choral singing before him, first of the strife of Neptune and Pallas for
the soil of Attica, and then of the battle of the gods and giants:--

  Après sur la plus grosse corde
  D'un bruit qui tonnait jusqu'aux cieux,
  Le pouce des Muses accorde
  L'assaut des Géants et des Dieux.

Keats, although he writes of the battle of the Gods not against the
Giants but against the earlier Titans, yet when he rolls out rebel names
like this,--

  Coeus, and Gyges, and Briareus;
  Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion
  Were pent in regions of laborious breath
  Dungeon'd in opaque elements,--

Keats, when he rolls out these rebel names, has surely been haunted by
the strophes of Ronsard:--

  Styx d'un noir halecret rempare
  Ses bras, ses jambes, et son sein,
  Sa fille amenant par la main
  Contre Cotte, Gyge, et Briare.[2]

  Neptune à la fourche estofée
  De trois crampons vint se mesler
  Par la troupe contre Typhée
  Qui rouoit une fonde en l'air:
  Ici Phoebus d'un trait qu'il jette
  Fit Encelade trébucher,
  Là Porphyre lui fit broncher
  Hors des poings l'arc et la sagette.

For such an epic theme Keats felt instinctively, when he set to work,
that an epic and not a romance treatment was necessary; and for an
English poet the obvious epic model is Milton. Ever since his visit to
Bailey at Oxford, and especially during his stay at Teignmouth the next
year, Keats had been absorbing Milton and taking him into his being, as
formerly he had taken Shakespeare and the Elizabethans, and now he can
utter his own thoughts and imaginations almost with Milton's voice.
Speaking generally of the blank verse of _Hyperion_, its rhythms are
almost as full and sonorous as Milton's own, but simpler; its march more
straightforward, with less of what De Quincey calls 'solemn planetary
wheelings'; its periods do not sweep through such complex evolutions to
so stately and far foreseen a close. The Miltonisms in _Hyperion_ are
rather matters of diction and construction--construction almost always
derived from the Latin--than of rhythm: sometimes also they are matters
of direct verbal echo and reminiscence. To take a single instance out of
many:--

  For as among us mortals omens drear
  Fright and perplex, so also shuddered he.

It is only in _Hyperion_ that Keats habitually thus puts the noun
Latin-wise before the adjective: and the omens that 'perplex' are
derived from the eclipse which in _Paradise Lost_ 'with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs.' Throughout the fragment Keats uses frequently and
with fine effect the Miltonic figure of the 'turn' or rhetorical
iteration of identical words to a fresh purport, as in that noble phrase
which seems to have inspired one of the finest passages in Shelley's
_Defence of Poesy_[3]:

  How beautiful, if Sorrow had not made
  Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty's self.

It has been said, and justly, that Keats has done nothing greater than
the debate of the fallen Titans in their cave of exile, modelled frankly
in its main outlines on that of the rebel angels in _Paradise Lost_, but
with the personages and utterances nevertheless entirely his own. In
creating and animating these colossal figures between the elemental and
the human, what masterly imaginative instinct does he show--to take one
point only--in the choice of similitudes, drawn from the vast
inarticulate sounds of nature, by which he seeks to make us realise
their voices. Thus of the murmuring of the assembled gods when Saturn is
about to speak:--

  There is a roaring in the bleak-grown pines
  When Winter lifts his voice; there is a noise
  Among immortals when a God gives sign,
  With hushing finger, how he means to load
  His tongue with the full weight of utterless thought,
  With thunder, and with music, and with pomp:
  Such noise is like the roar of bleak-grown pines.

This is not a whit the less Keats for his use of the Miltonic 'turn' in
rounding the period by a repetition in the last line of the 'bleak-grown
pines' from the first. Again, of Oceanus answering his fallen chief:--

  So ended Saturn; and the God of the Sea,
  Sophist and sage, from no Athenian grove,
  But cogitation in his watery shades,
  Arose, with locks not oozy, and began,
  In murmurs, which his first-endeavouring tongue
  Caught infant-like from the far-foamed sands.

Here the affirmation by negation in the second and fourth lines is a
Latin usage already employed by Keats in the _Pot of Basil_[4]: the
'locks not oozy' are a reminiscence from _Lycidas_ and the
'first-endeavouring tongue' from _The Vacation Exercise_. But into what
a vitally apt and beautiful new music of his own has Keats moulded and
converted all such echoes. Once more, of Clymene following Enceladus in
debate:--

  So far her voice flow'd on, like timorous brook
  That, lingering along a pebbled coast,
  Doth fear to meet the sea: but sea it met,
  And shudder'd; for the overwhelming voice
  Of huge Enceladus swallow'd it in wrath:
  The ponderous syllables, like sullen waves
  In the half-glutted hollows of reef-rocks,
  Came booming thus.

In this last example the sublimity owes nothing to Milton except in the
single case of the repetition in the third line. Even the scoffing Byron
recognized after Keats's death the authentic 'large utterance of the
early gods' in passages like these, though Keats in his modesty had
himself refused to recognize it.

Further to compare Keats with Milton,--the poet of _Hyperion_ is
naturally no match for Milton in passages where the elder master has
been inspired by life-long impassioned meditation on his readings of
history and romance, like that famous one ending with

                    What resounds
  In fable or romance of Uther's son.
  Begirt with British and Armoric knights
  Or all who since, baptized or infidel
  Jousted in Aspramont or Montalban,
  Damasco, or Marocco, or Trebizond,
  Or whom Biserta sent from Afric shore
  When Charlemain with all his peerage fell
  By Fontarrabia--

On the other hand Milton, even in the sweetness and the nearness to
nature of _Comus_ and his other early work, is scarce a match for Keats
when it comes to the evocation, even in a mode relatively simple, of
nature's secret sources of delight,--as thus:

                    throughout all the isle
  There was no covert, no retired cave
  Unhaunted by the murmurous noise of waves
  Though scarcely heard in many a green recess:

while comparison is scarcely possible in the case of the nature images
most characteristically Keats's own, for instance:--

  As when, upon a tranced summer night,
  Those green-robed senators of mighty woods,
  Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
  Dream, and so dream all night without a stir--.

Neither to the Greek nor the Miltonic, but essentially to the modern,
the romantic, sentiment of nature does it belong to try and express, by
such a concourse of metaphors and epithets, every effect at once, to
the most fugitive, which a forest scene by starlight can have upon the
mind: the pre-eminence of the oaks among the other trees--their
quasi-human venerableness--their verdure, unseen in the darkness--the
sense of their preternatural stillness and suspended life in an
atmosphere that seems to vibrate with mysterious influences communicated
between earth and sky.

All good poems, it has been said, begin well. None begins better than
_Hyperion_, with its 'Deep in the shady sadness of a vale,' and its
grand mournful dialogue between the discrowned Saturn and the Titaness
Thea, his would-be comforter. Then, with a rich contrast from this scene
of despondency, comes the scene, dazzling and resplendent for all its
ominousness, of the mingled wrath and terror of the threatened sun-god
in his flaming palace. The second book, relating the council of the
dethroned Titans, has neither the contrasted sublimities of the first
nor the intensity, rising almost to fever-point, of the unfinished
third, where we leave Apollo undergoing a convulsive change under the
afflatus of Mnemosyne, and about to put on the full powers of his
godhead. But it has a rightness and controlled power of its own which
place it, to my mind, fully on a level with the other two. And it is in
this book, in the speech of Oceanus, that Keats sets forth the whole
symbolical purport and meaning of the myth as he had conceived it:--

  Now comes the pain of truth, to whom 'tis pain;
  O folly! for to bear all naked truths,
  And to envisage circumstance, all calm,
  That is the top of sovereignty. Mark well!
  As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer far
  Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs;
  And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth
  In form and shape compact and beautiful,
  In will, in action free, companionship,
  And thousand other signs of purer life;
  So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
  A power more strong in beauty, born of us
  And fated to excel us, as we pass
  In glory that old Darkness: nor are we
  Thereby more conquer'd, than by us the rule
  Of shapeless Chaos. Say, doth the dull soil
  Quarrel with the proud forests it hath fed,
  And feedeth still, more comely than itself?
  Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves?
  Or shall the tree be envious of the dove
  Because it cooeth, and hath snowy wings
  To wander wherewithal and find its joys?
  We are such forest-trees, and our fair boughs
  Have bred forth, not pale solitary doves,
  But eagles golden-feather'd, who do tower
  Above us in their beauty, and must reign
  In right thereof; for 'tis the eternal law
  That first in beauty should be first in might:

That difficulty, to which we have referred, of surmising how there could
have remained material to fill out a poem on the Titanomachia which had
begun with the Titans, all but one, dethroned already, seems to increase
when we consider the above speech of Oceanus, setting forth with
resigned prophetic wisdom the fated necessity of their fall. It
increases still further when Clymene, following on the same side as
Oceanus, tells how she has heard the strains of a new and ravishing
music from the lyre of Apollo which have made her cast away in despair
the instrument of her own formless music, the sea-shell; and still
further again when in the next book we witness the meeting of Apollo
with the Titaness Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, who for his sake has
'forsaken old and sacred thrones,' and when we hear him proclaim how in
the inspiration of her presence,

  Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.
  Names, deeds, grey legends, dire events, rebellions,
  Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,
  Creations and destroyings, all at once
  Pour into the wide hollows of my brain,
  And deify me, as if some blithe wine
  Or bright elixir peerless I had drunk,
  And so become immortal.

Before the glory of this new-deified Apollo, what could long have
delayed the defeat or abdication of the elder sun-god Hyperion?--what
could have remained for Keats to invent that should have much enriched
or lengthened out his poem? The sense of the difficulty of sustaining
the battle of the primeval powers against these new and nobler
successors may well have been one of the things (even had he not had
Milton's comparative failure with the warfare in heaven to warn him)
that hindered his going on with his poem. To the reader there occurs
another and even greater difficulty: and that is that Keats had already
given to his fallen elder gods or Titans so much not only of majesty but
of nobleness and goodness that it is hard to see wherein he could have
shown their successors excelling them. He had represented Saturn as
wroth, indeed, at his downfall, but chiefly because it leaves him

                  --smother'd up,
  And buried from all godlike exercise
  Of influence benign on planets pale,
  Of admonition to the winds and seas,
  Of peaceful sway above man's harvesting,
  And all those acts which Deity supreme
  Doth ease its heart of love in.

Increase of knowledge, of skill in the arts of life and of beauty, the
gods of the new dynasty might indeed extend to mankind, but what
increase of love and beneficence? Even the relations of Saturn to his
father Coelus (the Greek Uranus), which in the ancient cosmogony are of
the crudest barbarity, Keats in _Hyperion_ makes benignant and
sympathetic.

Such inherent difficulties as these might well have made Keats diffident
of his power to complete his poem as a rounded or satisfying whole had
its intended scope been what we are told. But I am sometimes tempted to
conjecture that his root idea had been other than what his friends
attributed to him,--that battle, and the victory of the Olympians over
the Titans or Giants or both, would not in fact have been his main
theme, but that he intended to present to us Apollo, enthroned after
the abdication of Hyperion, in the character of a prophet and to have
put into his mouth revelations of things to come, a great monitory
vision of the world's future. To such a supposition some colour is
surely lent by the speech of Apollo above quoted on the 'knowledge
enormous' just poured into his brain by Mnemosyne. On the other hand it
has to be remembered that Keats himself, in a forecast of his work made
ten months before it was written, shows clearly that he then meant his
Apollo to be above all things a god of action.

Keats himself, writing some eight months later, when he had finally
decided to give up his epic attempt, cites as his chief reason a
re-action of his critical judgment against the Miltonic style, at least
as a style suitable for him, Keats, to work in:--

  I have given up _Hyperion_--there were too many Miltonic inversions in
  it--Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or rather,
  artist's humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English
  ought to be kept up. It may be interesting to you to pick out some
  lines from _Hyperion_, and put a mark * to the false beauty proceeding
  from art, and one to the true voice of feeling. Upon my soul 'twas
  imagination--I cannot make the distinction--Every now and then there
  is a Miltonic intonation--But I cannot make the division properly.

And again: 'I have but lately stood on my guard against Milton. Life to
him would be death to me. Miltonic verse cannot be written, but is the
verse of art. I wish to devote myself to another verse alone.' This
re-action was certainly not fully conscious or formulated in Keats's
mind by the previous winter. But it would seem none the less to have
been working in him instinctively: for the moment he had turned, in _The
Eve of St Agnes_, to a romance in the flowing, straightforward,
Spenserian-Chattertonian manner of narration, he had been able to carry
his task through with felicity and ease.

This was on his excursion to Hampshire in the latter half of January.
Within three weeks of his return he was at work again on a kindred
theme of popular and traditional belief, _The Eve of St Mark_. The
belief was that a person standing in the church porch of any town or
village on the evening before St Mark's day (April 24th) might thereby
gain a vision of all the inhabitants fated to die or fall grievously
sick within the year. Those destined to die would be seen passing in but
not returning, those who were to be in peril and recover would go in and
after a while come out. The heroine of the poem, to whom this vision
would appear, was to be a maiden of Canterbury named Bertha, no doubt
after the first Christian queen of Kent, the Frankish wife of Ethelbert;
the scene, Canterbury itself, memories of the poet's stay there in 1817
mingling apparently with impressions of his recent visit to Chichester.
Keats never got on with this poem after his first three or four days'
work (February 14th-17th 1819), and it remains a mere fragment,
tantalizing and singular, of a hundred and twenty lines' length. Why?
Perhaps merely because it was begun almost at the very hour when he
became the accepted lover of Fanny Brawne. We have seen how various
causes, but chiefly the obsession of that passion, paralysed his power
of work for the next two months, and what were the thoughts and tasks
that held him fully occupied afterwards. It has been suggested by the
late Dante Gabriel Rossetti that Keats meant to give the story a turn
applicable to himself and his mistress, and that the present fragment
would have served as the opening of a poem which afterwards, in
sickness, he mentioned to her as being in his mind:--'I would show some
one in love, as I am, with a person living in such Liberty as you do.' I
can find no sure evidence, internal or external, either to refute the
suggestion or confirm it.

The fragment of _The Eve of St Mark_ is Keats's only attempt at
narrative writing in the eight-syllabled four-stress couplet. Its pace
and movement are nearer to Chaucer in _The Romaunt of the Rose_ or _The
House of Fame_ than to Coleridge or Scott or any other model of Keats's
own time. That he was writing with Chaucer in his mind is proved by some
lines in which he tries in Rowley fashion to reproduce Chaucer's actual
style and vocabulary, thus:--

  Gif ye wol stonden hardie wight--
  Amiddes of the blacke night--
  Righte in the churche porch, pardie
  Ye wol behold a companie
  Approchen thee full dolourouse
  For sooth to sain from everich house
  Be it in city or village
  Wol come the Phantom and image
  Of ilka gent and ilka carle
  Who coldè Deathè hath in parle
  And wol some day that very year
  Touchen with foulè venime spear
  And sadly do them all to die--
  Hem all shalt thou see verilie--
  And everichon shall by thee pass
  All who must die that year, Alas.

These lines give us a sure key to the main motive of the story which was
to follow. With some others in the same style, they are quoted by the
poet as composing a gloss written in minute script on the margin of a
wonderful illuminated book over which the damsel is found poring and
which is to have some mysterious influence on her destiny. More
noticeable and interesting than their somewhat random Rowleyism is the
way in which some of the descriptive lines in the body of the poem
anticipate the very cadences of Chaucer's great latter-day disciple,
William Morris. The first eight or ten lines of the following might have
come straight from _The Man born to be King_ or _The Land East of the
Sun_, and provide, as it were, in the history of our poetry a direct
stepping-stone between Chaucer and Morris:--

  The city streets were clean and fair
  From wholesome drench of April rains;
  And, on the western window panes,
  The chilly sunset faintly told
  Of unmatur'd green vallies cold,
  Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
  Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge,
  Of primroses by shelter'd rills,
  And daisies on the aguish hills.
  Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell:
  The silent streets were crowded well
  With staid and pious companies,
  Warm from their fire-side orat'ries;
  And moving, with demurest air,
  To even-song, and vesper prayer.
  Each arched porch, and entry low,
  Was fill'd with patient folk and slow,
  With whispers hush, and shuffling feet,
  While play'd the organ loud and sweet.

The relation of this fragment to the Pre-Raphaelites of the mid
nineteenth century and their work is altogether curious and interesting.
It was natural that it should appeal to them by the pure and living
freshness of English nature-description with which it opens, by the
perfectly imagined scene of hushed movement in the twilight streets that
follows, perhaps most of all by the insistent delight in vivid colour,
and in minuteness of animated and suggestive detail, which marks the
final indoor scene of the maiden Bertha over her book by firelight. But
what is strange is that Rossetti should not only have coupled the
fragment with _La Belle Dame sans Merci_ as 'the chastest and choicest
example of Keats's maturing manner,' an opinion which may well pass, but
that he should have claimed it as showing 'astonishingly real
mediævalism for one not bred an artist,' and even as the finest picture
of the Middle Age period ever done. The truth is that the description of
the Sabbath streets and the maiden's chamber are not mediæval at all and
probably not intended to be, while the one thing so intended, the
illuminated manuscript from which she reads, is a quite impossible
invention jumbling fantastically together things that never could have
figured in the same manuscript, things from the Golden Legend, from the
book of Exodus, the book of Revelation, with others from no possible
manuscript source at all. Keats evidently took some interest in
mediæval illuminations, for in speculating on the old skulls of supposed
monks at Beauly Abbey he had apostrophized one of them,--

  Poor Skull, thy fingers set ablaze
  With silver saint in golden rays,
  The holy Missal: thou didst craze
    Mid bead and spangle,
  While others pass'd their idle days
    In coil and wrangle.

But he can have seen few and made no study of them, and his imagined
mystically illuminated book in _The Eve of St Mark_ is invented with no
such fine instinctive tact or likelihood as his imagined Grecian urn of
the ode.

An elder member of the Rossetti circle, that shrewd and caustic, very
originally minded if only half accomplished Scottish poet and painter,
William Bell Scott, was much exercised over his friend's misconception
in this matter. I will give his comment, certainly in some points just,
as written to me in 1885. 'On reading the fragment it seems to me
impossible to resist the conclusion that the scene represented is of the
present day. The dull and quiet Sunday evening represented is of our
time in any cathedral town in England, not the Sunday evening of old
when morning Mass was the religious observance, and the evening was
spent in long-bow and popinjay games and practice. The weary girl sits
at a coal fire with a screen behind her, a Japanese screen apparently,'
[Japanese or old English lacquer imitating Oriental the screen certainly
is]. 'Every item of the description is modern. But alas! what shall we
say to the ancient illuminated MS. she has in hand, with the pictures of
early martyrs dying by fire, the Inquisition punishment of heretics, and
the writing annotated, the notes referred to modern printers' signs? As
he describes a mediæval MS. book so badly, it may be said he intended
the scene of the poem to be mediæval, but did the description also so
badly. But no, the description of the dreariness of Sunday evening,
utterly silent but for the passing of the people going to evening
sermon, is admirable.' By 'badly' my old friend meant inexactly. But
Keats never was nor tried to be exact in his antiquarianism. If we take
_The Eve of St Agnes_ as intended to be a faithful picture from the
Middle Ages, it simply goes to pieces in the line--

  And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.

Probably neither _The Eve of St Agnes_ nor _St Mark's Eve_ were dated
with any definiteness in the poet's mind at all. A reference he makes to
the last-named piece in a letter from Winchester the following autumn
lends no definite support either to the modern or the mediæval
interpretation:--'Some time since I began a poem called _The Eve of St
Mark_, quite in the spirit of town quietude. I think it will give you
the sensation of walking about an old country town on a coolish
evening.' The impression of mediævalism which the two poems convey is
not by any evidence of antiquarian knowledge or accuracy but by the
intense spirit of romance that is in them,--by that impassioned delight
in vivid colour and beautiful, imaginative detail which we have noted.

After his four days' start on this poem in February came the spell of
two months' idleness which towards its close yielded _La Belle Dame sans
Merci_ and came to an end with the _Ode to Psyche_, followed in the
course of May by the four other odes. The choral _Song of the Four
Fairies_, for some inchoate opera, sent by Keats to his brother together
with _La Belle Dame_, is not worth pausing upon, and we may pass to
Keats's main work of the ensuing July and August, _Otho the Great_. This
is no fragment, having been duly finished to the last scene of the last
act; but it is very much of an experiment. The question whether Keats,
had he lived, might have become a great dramatic poet and creator is one
of the most interesting possible. His intense and growing interest in
humankind, together with his recorded and avowed liability to receive
('like putty,' as modern criticism has conjectured of Shakespeare) the
impression of any character he might come in contact with, has led many
students to believe that he had in him the stuff of a great creative
playwright. _Otho the Great_ does nothing to solve the question. The
plot and construction, as we have said, were entirely Brown's, building
with quite arbitrary freedom on certain bald historical facts of the
rebellion raised against Otho, in the course of his Hungarian wars, by
his son Ludolf and the Red Duke Conrad of Lorraine, whom the emperor
subsequently forgave. Creation demands fore-knowledge, premeditation on
the characters you desire to create and the situations in which they are
to be placed, and Keats, Brown tells us, only foreknew what was coming
in any scene after they had sat down at the table to work on it. His
business was to supply the words, and what the result shows is only the
surprising facility with which he could by this time improvise poetry to
order. The speeches in Otho are much more than passably poetical, they
are often quite brilliant and touched with Keats's unique genius for
felicity in lines and phrases. But they affect us as put into the mouths
of puppet speakers, not as coming out of the hearts and passions of men
and women.

In rhythm they are vital and varied enough, in style extremely
high-pitched, and they resemble much Elizabethan work of the second
order in smothering action and passion under a redundance and feverish
excess of poetry. There is violence amounting to hysteria alike in the
villainy of Conrad and of his sister Auranthe, the remorse of Albert,
and the mixture of filial devotion and lover's blindness in Ludolf, with
his vengeful frenzy when he finds how he has been gulled. Keats, it is
recorded, had in his eye the special gift of Edmund Kean for enacting
frantic extremes and long-drawn agonies of passion; and it is possible
that as played by him the last act, of which Keats took the conduct as
well as the writing into his own hands, might have proved effective on
the stage. It shows the maddened Conrad bent on executing vengeance on
the traitress Auranthe, and insanely stabbing empty air while he
imagines he is stabbing his victim, until curtains drawn aside disclose
an inner apartment where she has at the very moment fallen self-slain.
But it is doubtful whether any acting could carry off a plot so
ultra-romantically extravagant and in places so obscure, or characters
so incommensurably more eloquent than they are alive. Nor do lovers of
Keats commonly care to read the play twice, for all its bursts and
coruscations of fine poetry, feeling that these do not spring from the
poet's own inner self and imagination, but are rather as fireworks
fitted by a man of genius on to a frame which another man, barely of
talent, has put together.

The case is different when we come to _King Stephen_, the brief dramatic
fragment on which Keats wrought alone after _Otho the Great_ was
finished. This teaches us one thing at any rate about Keats, that he
could at will call away his imagination from matters luxurious or
refreshing to the spirit, from themes broodingly meditative or
tragically tender, to deal in a manner of fiery energy with the clash of
war. He is still enough a child of the Renaissance to make his
twelfth-century knights and princes quote Homer in their taunts and
counter-taunts; but in the three-and-a-half scenes which he wrote he
makes us feel his Stephen, defiant in defeat, a real elemental force and
not a mere mouther of valiant rhetoric, fine and concentrated as the
rhetoric sometimes is, as for instance when an enemy taunts him with
being disarmed and helpless and he cries back, 'What weapons has the
lion but himself?'

In persuading Keats to work with him on a tragedy for the stage, Brown
had had the entirely laudable motive of putting his friend in the way of
earning money for them both. But what would we not have given that the
time and labour thus, as it turned out, thrown away should have yielded
us from Keats's self another _Isabella_ or _Eve of St Agnes_, or a
finished _Eve of St Mark_, or even another _Lamia_? Brown's next piece
of suggestion and would-be help was far more unfortunate still. We have
seen how in the unhappy weeks after Keats's return from Winchester in
October, he spent his mornings in Brown's company spinning the verses of
a comic and satiric fairy tale the scheme of which they had concocted
together,--_The Cap and Bells_ or _The Jealousies_. The idea of the
friends in this was no doubt to throw a challenge to Byron, the first
cantos of whose _Don Juan_ had lately been launched upon a dazzled and
scandalized world. Byron's genius, the spirit, that is, of brilliant
devilry and worldly mockery which was the sincerest part of his genius,
with his rich experiences of life, travel and society, of passion and
dissipation and the extremes of fame and obloquy, and his incomparable
address and versatility in playing tricks of legerdemain with ideas and
language, had here all found their perfect opportunity for display.
Attempts at worldly banter and satire by the tender-hearted, intensely
loving and imagining Keats, with his narrow and in the main rather
second-rate social experience, were never more than wry-mouthed as I
have called them, ineffectual, and essentially against the grain.

His collaborator Brown imagined he had a gift for satiric fairy tales,
but his recorded efforts in that kind are silly and dull as well as
inclining to coarseness. What happier result could be expected from
their new joint work than that which posterity deplores in _The Cap and
Bells_? The story is of an Indian Faery emperor Elfinan,--a name
suggested by Spenser,--enamoured of an English maiden Bertha Pearl,--the
very Bertha of _The Eve of St Mark_, resuscitated to our amazement,--but
having for political reasons to seek in marriage a Faery princess
Bellanaine, who herself is in love with an English youth named Hubert.
The eighty-eight stanzas which Keats wrote on those autumn mornings in
Brown's room carry the tale no farther than Elfinan's despatching his
chancellor Crafticanto on an embassy to fetch Bellanaine on an aerial
journey from her home in Imaus, his consultation with his magician Hum
as to the means of escaping the marriage and conveying himself secretly
to England, his departure, and the arrival of Bellanaine and her escort
to find the palace empty and the emperor flown. How the seriously,
perhaps tragically, conceived Bertha of _St Mark's Eve_, with the mystic
book fated to have influence on her life, could have been worked, as
they were evidently meant to be worked, into this new ridiculous
narrative, we cannot guess, nor how the relations of Bellanaine with her
mortal lover would have been managed.

Before Keats's deepening despondency and recklessness caused him to drop
writing altogether, which apparently happened early in December, he was
evidently out of conceit with _The Cap and Bells_.[5] One of the most
unfortunate things about the attempt is the choice of the Spenserian
stanza for its metre. Keats had probably wished to avoid seeming merely
to imitate Byron, as he might have seemed to do had he written in the
_ottava rima_ of Don Juan, the one perfectly fit measure for such a
blend of fantasy and satire as he was attempting. But not even Keats's
power over the Spenserian stanza could make it a fit vehicle for his
purpose. Thomson and Shenstone had used it in work of mild and leisurely
playfulness, but to bite in satire or sting in epigram it cannot
effectively be bent. To my sense the precedent most in Keats's mind was
not these, but the before-mentioned translation of Wieland's _Oberon_ by
Sotheby. Sotheby had invented a modified form of the Spenserian stanza
riming _abbaccddc_ instead of _abcbbdbdd_ and keeping the final
alexandrine. Much of the machinery and spirit of _The Cap and
Bells_--the magic journeys through the air--the comic atmosphere and
adventures of the courts--are closely akin to the jocular parts of this
_Oberon_. Some of the passages of mere fun and playfulness are pleasant
enough, like that description of a dilapidated hackney coach (much
resembling the four-wheeler of our youth) which Hunt selected to publish
in the _Indicator_ while Keats was lying sick in his house the next
year: but the attempts at social satire are almost always feeble and
tiresome, and still more so those at political satire, turning for the
most part rather obscurely on the scandals, then at their height,
attending the relations of the Prince and Princess of Wales. In the
faery narrative itself there break forth momentary flashes from the true
genius of the poet, such as might delight the reader if he could lose
his sense of irritation at the rubbish from amidst which they gleam. As
thus, of the princess's flight through the air (was Keats thinking, in
the first line, of the children carried heavenward by angels in
Orcagna's _Triumph of Death_?)

  As in old pictures tender cherubim
  A child's soul thro' the sapphir'd canvas bear,
  So, thro' a real heaven, on they swim
  With the sweet princess on her plumag'd lair,
  Speed giving to the winds her lustrous hair.

Or this, telling how Bertha of Canterbury, in Keats's queer new
conception of her, was really a changeling born in the jungle:--

  She is a changeling of my management;
  She was born at midnight in an Indian wild;
  Her mother's screams with the striped tiger's blent,
  While the torch-bearing slaves a halloo sent
  Into the jungles.

Or again, some of the stanzas describing the welcome prepared in
Elfinan's capital for the faery princess after her flight: note in the
last the persistence with which Keats carries into these incongruous
climates his passion for the English spring flowers:--

    The morn is full of holiday; loud bells
    With rival clamours ring from every spire;
    Cunningly-station'd music dies and swells
    In echoing places; when the winds respire,
    Light flags stream out like gauzy tongues of fire;
    A metropolitan murmur, lifeful, warm,
    Comes from the northern suburbs; rich attire
    Freckles with red and gold the moving swarm;
  While here and there clear trumpets blow a keen alarm.

And again:--

    As flowers turn their faces to the sun,
    So on our flight with hungry eyes they gaze,
    And, as we shap'd our course, this, that way run,
    With mad-cap pleasure, or hand-clasp'd amaze;
    Sweet in the air a mild-ton'd music plays,
    And progresses through its own labyrinth;
    Buds gather'd from the green spring's middle-days,
    They scatter'd,--daisy, primrose, hyacinth,--
  Or round white columns wreath'd from capital to plinth.

After his mornings spent in Brown's company over the strained
frivolities of _The Cap and Bells_, Keats was in the same weeks
striving, alone with himself of an evening, to utter the new thoughts on
life and poetry which he found taking shape in the depths of his being.
He took up again the abandoned _Hyperion_, and began rewriting it no
longer as a direct narrative, but as a vision shewn and interpreted by a
supernatural monitress acting to him somewhat the same part as Virgil
acts to Dante. In altering the form and structure of the poem Keats also
takes pains to alter its style, de-Miltonizing and de-latinizing,
sometimes terribly to their disadvantage, the passages which he takes
over from the earlier version. It is not in these, it is in the two
hundred and seventy lines of its wholly new pre-amble or introduction
that the value of the altered poem lies.

The reader remembers how Keats had broken off his work on the original
_Hyperion_ at the point where Mnemosyne, goddess of Memory and mother of
the Muses, is enkindling the brain of Apollo by mysteriously imparting
to him her ancient wisdom and all-embracing knowledge. Following a clue
which he had found in a Latin book of mythology he had lately bought,[6]
he now identifies this Greek Mnemosyne with the Roman Moneta, goddess of
warning or admonition; and being possibly also aware that the temple of
Juno Moneta on the Capitol at Rome was not far from that of Saturn,
makes his Mnemosyne-Moneta the priestess and guardian of Saturn's
temple. His vision takes him first into a grove or garden of trees and
flowers and fountains, with a feast of summer fruits spread on the moss
before an embowered arbour. The events that follow, and the converse
held between the poet and the priestess, are in their ethical and
allegoric meanings at many points obscure, and capable, like all symbols
that are truly symbolic, of various interpretations. But the leading
ideas they embody can be recognised clearly enough.

They are primarily the same ideas, developed in a deeper and more sombre
spirit, as had been present in Keats's mind almost from the beginning:
the idea that in the simple delights of nature and of art as
unreflectingly felt in youth there is no abiding place for the poetic
spirit, that from the enjoyment of such delights it must rise to
thoughts higher and more austere and prompting to more arduous tasks:
the further idea that to fit it for such tasks two things above all are
necessary, growth in human sympathy through the putting down of self,
and growth in knowledge and wisdom through strenuous study and
meditation. Such ideas had already been thrown out by Keats in _Sleep
and Poetry_; they had been developed with much more fullness, though in
a manner made obscure from redundance of imagery, in _Endymion_,
especially in the third book: they had been expressed with a difference
under the new and clearer symbolism of the Two Chambers of Thought in
Keats's letter to Reynolds from Teignmouth. About the same hour, the
hour, as I think, of the finest achievement of Keats's genius as well as
of its highest promise,--there had appeared in his letters and some of
his verses the quite new idea, which would have been inconceivable to
him a year earlier, of questioning whether poetry was a worthy pursuit
at all in a world full of pain and destruction. Musing beside the sea on
a calm evening of April, he anticipates the Tennysonian vision of
'nature, red in tooth and claw With ravine.' In letters written during
the next few weeks he insists over and over again alike upon the
acuteness of his new sense that the world is 'full of Misery and
Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and Oppression,' and upon the poet's need of
knowledge, and again knowledge, and ever more knowledge, to take away
the heat and fever and ease 'the Burden of the Mystery.' The first
passage that shows the dawn of a desire in his mind to do good to a
suffering world by means possibly other than his art is that well-known
and deeply significant one:--

  I find earlier days are gone by--I find that I can have no enjoyment
  in the world but continual drinking of knowledge. I find there is no
  worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good to the world. Some do
  it with their society--some with their wit--some with their
  benevolence--some with a sort of power of conferring pleasure and good
  humour on all they meet--and in a thousand ways, all dutiful to the
  command of great Nature--there is but one way for me. The road lies
  through application, study, and thought. I will pursue it.

The next time he expresses such an idea, it comes struck from him in a
darker mood and in phrases of greater poignancy:--'were it in my choice,
I would reject a Petrarcal coronation,--on account of my dying day, and
because women have cancers ... I am never alone without rejoicing that
there is such a thing as death--without placing my ultimate in the glory
of dying for a great human purpose.'

The pressure of the sense of human misery, the hunger of the soul for
knowledge and vision to lighten it, though they naturally do not colour
his impersonal work of the next year and a half, nevertheless set their
mark, the former strain in especial, upon his most deeply felt
meditative verse, as in the odes to the Nightingale and the Grecian Urn,
and reappear occasionally in his private confessions to his friends.
Now, after intense experience both of personal sorrow and of poetic
toil, and under the strain of incipient disease and consuming passion,
it is borne in upon his solitary hours that such poetry as he has
written, the irresponsible poetry of beauty and romance, has been mere
idle dreaming, a refuge of the spirit from its prime duty of sharing and
striving to alleviate the troubles of the world. It seems to him that
every ordinary man and woman is worth more to mankind than such a
dreamer. If poetry is to be worth anything to the world, it must be a
different kind of poetry from this: the true poet is something the very
opposite of the mere dreamer: he is one who has prepared himself through
self-renunciation and arduous effort and extreme probation of the spirit
to receive and impart the highest wisdom, the wisdom that comes from
full knowledge of the past and foresight into the future. Of such wisdom
_The Fall of Hyperion_ in its amended form, as revealed and commented by
Mnemosyne-Moneta, the great priestess and prophetess, remembrancer and
admonisher in one, was meant to be a sample,--or such an attempt at a
sample as Keats at the present stage of his mental growth could supply.
But the attempt soon proved beyond his strength and was abandoned.

The preamble, or induction, he had finished; and this, if we leave out
the futile eighteen lines with which it begins, contains much lofty
thought conveyed in noble imagery and in a style of blank verse quite
his own and independent of all models. Take the feast of fruits,
symbolic of the poet's early unreflecting joys, and the new thirst for
some finer and more inspiring elixir which follows it:--

                                   On a mound
  Of moss, was spread a feast of summer fruits,
  Which, nearer seen, seem'd refuse of a meal
  By angel tasted or our Mother Eve;
  For empty shells were scattered on the grass,
  And grape-stalks but half bare, and remnants more
  Sweet-smelling, whose pure kinds I could not know.
  Still was more plenty than the fabled horn
  Thrice emptied could pour forth at banqueting,
  For Proserpine return'd to her own fields,
  Where the white heifers low. And appetite,
  More yearning than on earth I ever felt,
  Growing within, I ate deliciously,--
  And, after not long, thirsted; for thereby
  Stood a cool vessel of transparent juice
  Sipp'd by the wander'd bee, the which I took,
  And pledging all the mortals of the world,
  And all the dead whose names are in our lips,
  Drank. That full draught is parent of my theme.

The draught plunges him into a profound sleep, from which he awakens a
changed being among utterly changed surroundings. The world in which he
finds himself is no longer a delicious garden but an ancient and august
temple,--the noblest and most nobly described architectural vision in
all Keats's writings:--

  I look'd around upon the curved sides
  Of an old sanctuary, with roof august,
  Builded so high, it seemed that filmed clouds
  Might spread beneath as o'er the stars of heaven.
  So old the place was, I remember'd none
  The like upon the earth: what I had seen
  Of grey cathedrals, buttress'd walls, rent towers,
  The superannuations of sunk realms,
  Or Nature's rocks toil'd hard in waves and winds,
  Seem'd but the faulture of decrepit things
  To that eternal domed monument.

The sights the poet sees and the experiences which befall him within
this temple; the black gates closed against the east,--which must
symbolize the forgotten past of the world; the stupendous image
enthroned aloft in the west, with the altar at its foot, approachable
only by an interminable flight of steps; the wreaths of incense veiling
the altar and spreading a mysterious sense of happiness; the voice of
one ministering at the altar and shrouded in the incense--a voice at
once of invitation and menace, bidding the dreamer climb to the summit
of the steps by a given moment or he will perish utterly; the sense of
icy numbness and death which comes upon him before he can reach even the
lowest step; the new life that pours into him as he touches the step;
his accosting of the mysterious veiled priestess who stands on the
altar platform when he has climbed to it; all these phases of the poet's
ordeal are impressively told, but are hard to interpret otherwise than
dubiously and vaguely. Matters become more definite a moment afterwards,
when in answer to the poet's questions the priestess tells him that none
can climb to the altar beside which he stands,--the altar, we must
suppose, of historic and prophetic knowledge where alone, after due
sacrifice of himself, the poet can find true inspiration,--except those

          to whom the miseries of the world
  Are misery and will not let them rest.

The poet pleads that there are thousands of ordinary men and women who
feel the sorrows of the world and do their best to mitigate them, and is
answered,--

  'Those whom thou spakest of are no visionaries'
  Rejoin'd that voice; 'they are no dreamers weak;
  They seek no wonder but the human face,
  No music but a happy-noted voice:
  They come not here, they have no thought to come;
  And thou art here, for thou art less than they.
  What benefit canst thou do, or all thy tribe,
  To the great world? Thou art a dreaming thing,
  A fever of thyself: think of the earth;
  What bliss, even in hope, is there for thee?
  What haven? every creature hath its home,
  Every sole man hath days of joy and pain,
  Whether his labours be sublime or low--
  The pain alone, the joy alone, distinct:
  Only the dreamer venoms all his days,
  Bearing more woe than all his sins deserve.

What a pilgrimage has the soul of Keats gone through, when he utters
this heartrending cry, from the day, barely three years before, when he
was never tired of singing by anticipation the joys and glories of the
poetic life and of the end that awaits it:--

  These are the living pleasures of the bard,
  But richer far posterity's award.
  What shall he murmur with his latest breath,
  When his proud eye looks through the film of death?

The truth is that, in all this, Keats in his depression of mind and body
has become fiercely unjust to his own achievements and their value: for
if posterity were asked, would it not reply that the things of sheer
beauty his youth has left us, draughts drawn from the inmost wells of
nature and antiquity and romance, are of greater solace and refreshment
to his kind than anything he could have been likely to achieve by
deliberate effort in defiance of his natural genius or in premature
anticipation of its maturity?

At this point there follows a fretful passage, ill-written or rather
only roughly drafted, and therefore not included in the transcripts of
the fragments by his friends, in which his monitress affirms
contemptuously the gulf that separates the romantic dreamer from the
true poet. He accepts the reproof and the threatened punishment, the
more willingly if they are to extend to certain 'hectorers in proud bad
verse' (he means Byron) who have aroused his spleen. Reverting to a
loftier strain, and acknowledging the grace she has so far shown him,
the poet asks his monitress to reveal herself. He had probably long
before been impressed by engravings of the well-known ancient statue of
the seated Mnemosyne sitting forward with her chin resting on her hand,
her arm and shoulder heavily swathed in drapery: but his vision of her
here seems wholly independent, and is noble and mystically haunting.
When she has signified to him in a softened voice that the gigantic
image above the altar is that of Saturn, and that the scenes of the
world's past she is about to evoke before him are those of the fall of
Saturn, the poet relates:--

  As near as an immortal's sphered words
  Could to a mother's soften were these last:
  And yet I had a terror of her robes,
  And chiefly of the veils that from her brow
  Hung pale, and curtain'd her in mysteries,
  That made my heart too small to hold its blood.
  This saw that Goddess, and with sacred hand
  Parted the veils. Then saw I a wan face,
  Not pin'd by human sorrows, but bright-blanch'd
  By an immortal sickness which kills not;
  It works a constant change, which happy death
  Can put no end to; deathwards progressing
  To no death was that visage; it had past
  The lilly and the snow; and beyond these
  I must not think now, though I saw that face.
  But for her eyes I should have fled away;
  They held me back with a benignant light,
  Soft, mitigated by divinest lids
  Half-clos'd, and visionless entire they seem'd
  Of all external things; they saw me not,
  But in blank splendour beam'd, like the mild moon,
  Who comforts those she sees not, who knows not
  What eyes are upward cast.

The aspirant now adoringly entreats her to disclose the tragedy that he
perceives to be working in her brain: she consents, and from this point
begins the original _Hyperion_ re-cast and narrated as a vision within
the main vision, with comments put into the mouth of the prophetess. But
the scheme, which under no circumstances, one would say, could have been
a prosperous one, was soon abandoned, and this, the last of Keats's
great fragments, breaks off near the beginning of the second book.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] _Carm._ iii. 4, which probably Keats knew also at first hand.

  [2] The daughter of Styx is Victory, and 'halecret' is a corslet.

  [3] The passage ending, 'the pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter
    than the pleasure of pleasure itself.'

  [4]
      With duller steel than the Persèan sword
      They cut away no formless monster's head.

  [5] See the letter to Taylor quoted above, pp. 380, 381.

  [6] _Auctores Mythographi Latini_, ed. Van Staveren, Leyden, 1742.
    Keats's copy of the book was bought by him in 1819, and passed after
    his death into the hands first of Brown, and afterwards of Archdeacon
    Bailey (Houghton MSS.). The passage about Moneta which had wrought in
    Keats's mind occurs at p. 4, in the notes to Hyginus.



CHAPTER XV

FEBRUARY-AUGUST 1820: HAMPSTEAD AND KENTISH TOWN: PUBLICATION OF _LAMIA_
VOLUME.

  Letters from the sick-bed--To Fanny Brawne--To James Rice--Barry
  Cornwall--Hopes of returning health--Haydon's private
  view--Improvement not maintained--Summer at Kentish Town--Kindness of
  Leigh Hunt--Misery and jealousy--Severn and Mrs Gisborne--Invitation
  from Shelley--Keats on _The Cenci_--_La Belle Dame_ published--A
  disfigured version--The _Lamia_ volume published--Charles Lamb's
  appreciation--The _New Monthly_--Other favourable reviews--Taylor and
  Blackwood--A skirmish--Impenitence--And impertinence--Jeffrey in the
  _Edinburgh_--Appreciation full though tardy--Fury of Byron--Shelley on
  _Hyperion_--And on Keats in general--Impressions of Crabb Robinson.


Such and so gloomy, although with no ignoble gloom, had been Keats's
deeper thoughts on poetry and life, and such the imagery under which he
figured them, during the last weeks when the state of his health enabled
his mind to work with anything approaching its natural power. From the
night of his seizure on February 3rd 1820, which was three months after
his twenty-fourth birthday, he never wrote verse again: unless indeed
the lines found on the margin of his manuscript of _The Cap and Bells_
were written from his sick-bed and in a moment of bitterness addressed
in his mind to Fanny Brawne: but from a certain pitch and formality of
style in them, I should take them rather to be meant for putting into
the mouth of one of the characters in some such historical play as he
had been meditating in the weeks before Christmas:--

  This living hand, now warm and capable
  Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
  And in the icy silence of the tomb,
  So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
  That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
  So in my veins red life might stream again,
  And thou be conscience-calm'd--see here it is--
  I hold it towards you.

For several days after the hæmorrhage he was kept to his room and his
bed, and for nearly two months had to lead a strictly invalid life. At
first he could bear no one in the room except the doctor and Brown.
'While I waited on him day and night,' testifies Brown, 'his instinctive
generosity, his acceptance of my offices, by a glance of his eye, a
motion of his hand, made me regard my mechanical duty as absolutely
nothing compared to his silent acknowledgment.' (How often have these
words come home to the heart of the present writer in days when he used
to be busy about the mute sick-bed of another of these shining ones!)
Severn, nursing Keats later under conditions even more trying and
hopeless, bears similar testimony to his unabated charm and sweetness in
suffering. Almost from the first he was able to write little letters to
his sister Fanny, and is careful to give them a cheering and re-assuring
turn. When after some days he is down on a sofa-bed made up for him in
the front parlour he tells her what an improvement it is:--

  Besides I see all that passes-for instance now, this morning--if I had
  been in my own room I should not have seen the coals brought in. On
  Sunday between the hours of twelve and one I descried a Pot boy. I
  conjectured it might be the one o'clock beer--Old women with bobbins
  and red cloaks and unpresuming bonnets I see creeping about the heath.
  Gipseys after hare skins and silver spoons. Then goes by a fellow with
  a wooden clock under his arm that strikes a hundred and more. Then
  comes the old French emigrant (who has been very well to do in France)
  with his hands joined behind on his hips, and his face full of
  political schemes. Then passes Mr David Lewis, a very good-natured,
  good-looking old gentleman who has been very kind to Tom and George
  and me. As for those fellows the Brick-makers they are always passing
  to and fro. I mustn't forget the two old maiden Ladies in Well Walk
  who have a Lap dog between them that they are very anxious about. It
  is a corpulent Little beast whom it is necessary to coax along with an
  ivory-tipp'd cane. Carlo our Neighbour Mrs Brawne's dog and it meet
  sometimes. Lappy thinks Carlo a devil of a fellow and so do his
  Mistresses.

Very soon his betrothed was allowed to pay him little visits from next
door, and he was able to take pleasure in these and in a constant
interchange of notes with her. He tells her of his thoughts and some of
his words (which are not quite the same as Brown puts in his mouth) at
the moment of his seizure:--

  You must believe--you shall, you will--that I can do nothing, say
  nothing, think nothing of you but what has its spring in the Love
  which has so long been my pleasure and torment. On the night I was
  taken ill--when so violent a rush of blood came to my Lungs that I
  felt nearly suffocated--I assure you I felt it possible I might not
  survive, and at that moment thought of nothing but you. When I said to
  Brown 'this is unfortunate' I thought of you. 'Tis true that since the
  first two or three days other subjects have entered my head.

On the whole his love-thoughts keep peaceable and contented, and his
jealousies are for the moment at rest. But he has to struggle with the
sense that considering his health and circumstances he is bound in
fairness to release her from her engagement: an idea which to her credit
she seems steadily to have refused to entertain.

  My greatest torment since I have known you has been the fear of you
  being a little inclined to the Cressid; but that suspicion I dismiss
  utterly and remain happy in the surety of your Love, which I assure
  you is as much a wonder to me as a delight. Send me the words 'Good
  night' to put under my pillow....

  You know our situation--what hope is there if I should be recovered
  ever so soon--my very health will not suffer me to make any great
  exertion. I am recommended not even to read poetry, much less write
  it. I wish I had even a little hope. I cannot say forget me--but I
  would mention that there are impossibilities in the world. No more of
  this. I am not strong enough to be weaned--take no notice of it in
  your good night.

The healthier and more tranquil tenor of his thoughts and feelings for
the time is beautifully expressed in the often quoted letter written to
James Rice a fortnight after his attack:--

  I may say that for six months before I was taken ill I had not passed
  a tranquil day. Either that gloom overspread me, or I was suffering
  under some passionate feeling, or if I turned to versify, that
  acerbated the poison of either sensation. The beauties of nature had
  lost their power over me. How astonishingly (here I must premise that
  illness, as far as I can judge in so short a time, has relieved my
  mind of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and makes me perceive
  things in a truer light),--how astonishingly does the chance of
  leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon us!
  Like poor Falstaff, though I do not 'babble', I think of green fields;
  I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from
  my infancy--their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just
  created them with a superhuman fancy. It is because they are connected
  with the most thoughtless and the happiest moments of our lives. I
  have seen foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature,
  but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of our Spring
  are what I want to see again.

Some time in the month he owns to his beloved that the thoughts of what
he had hoped to do in poetry mingle with his thoughts of her:--

  How illness stands as a barrier betwixt me and you! Even if I was
  well--I must make myself as good a Philosopher as possible. Now I have
  had opportunities of passing nights anxious and awake I have found
  other thoughts intrude upon me. 'If I should die,' said I to myself,
  'I have left no immortal work behind me--nothing to make my friends
  proud of my memory--but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all
  things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd.'
  Thoughts like these came very feebly whilst I was in health and every
  pulse beat for you--now you divide with this (may I say it?) 'last
  infirmity of noble minds' all my reflection.

Presently we learn from his letters that Reynolds, Dilke, and one or two
other friends have been dropping in to see him. He expresses himself
touched by the courtesy of a new poetical acquaintance of much more
prosperous worldly connexions than his own, Mr Bryan Waller Procter
('Barry Cornwall') in sending him copies of his volumes lately
published. Keats does not mention that one of these contains a version,
_The Sicilian Story_, of the same tale from Boccaccio as his own as yet
unpublished _Isabella_: but he cannot quite conceal his perception of
those qualities in Barry Cornwall's work, its prevailing strain of
fluent imitative common-place, its affectations and exaggerations of
Hunt's and his own leanings towards over-lusciousness, which Shelley, as
we shall see, found so exasperating. 'However,' he adds, 'that is
nothing--I think he likes poetry for its own sake not his.'[1] Before
the end of the month we find him taking pleasure, as in earlier
Februaries, in the song of the thrush, which portends, he hopes, an end
of the north-east wind. The month of March brings signs of gradually
returning strength. Brown, he says, declares he is getting stout; and
having in the first weeks of his illness avowed that he was so feeble he
could be flattered into a hope in which faith had no part, he now begins
really to believe in his own recovery and to let his thoughts run again
on fame and poetry. He writes to Fanny Brawne the most trustful and
least agitated of all his love letters:--

  You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov'd your Beauty. Have
  I nothing else then to love in you but that? Do not I see a heart
  naturally furnish'd with wings imprison itself with me? No ill
  prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me. This
  perhaps should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy--but I will not
  talk of that. Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire
  devotion to you: how much more deeply then must I feel for you knowing
  you love me. My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one
  that ever was put into a body too small for it. I never felt my Mind
  repose upon anything with complete and undistracted enjoyment--upon no
  person but you. When you are in the room my thoughts never fly out of
  window: you always concentrate my whole senses. The anxiety shown
  about our Loves in your last note is an immense pleasure to me:
  however you must not suffer such speculations to molest you any more:
  nor will I any more believe you can have the least pique against me.

And again: 'let me have another opportunity of years and I will not die
without being remember'd. Take care of yourself dear that we may both be
well in the summer.'

He began to get about again, and by the 25th of March was well enough to
go into town to the private view of Haydon's huge picture, finished at
last, of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. This was the occasion which
Haydon in his autobiography describes in language so vivid and with a
self-congratulation so boisterous and contagious that it is impossible
in reading not to share his sense of the day's triumph. As in the case
of the Elgin marbles three years earlier, he had achieved his object in
the face of a thousand difficulties and enmities, living the while on
the bounty of friends, some of them rich, others, as we know, the
reverse, whom his ardour and importunity had whipped up to his help. At
the last moment he had contrived to scrape together money enough to stop
the mouths of his creditors and to pay the cost of hiring the Egyptian
Hall and hanging up his gigantic canvas there, with the help of three
gigantic guardsmen, his models and assistants; and the world of taste
and fashion, realising how Haydon had been right and the established
dilettanti wrong in regard to the Elgin marbles, were determined to be
on the safe side this time in case he should turn out to be right also
about the merits of his own work.

Some exalted and many distinguished personages had been to see the
picture in his studio, and now, on the opening day, the hall was
thronged in answer to his invitations. 'All the ministers and their
ladies, all the foreign ambassadors, all the bishops, all the beauties
in high life, all the geniuses in town, and everybody of any note, were
invited and came.... The room was full. Keats and Hazlitt were up in a
corner, really rejoicing.' Hazlitt expressed in the _Edinburgh Review_
for the following August a tempered, far from undiscriminating
admiration of certain qualities in the painting. Keats himself merely
mentions to his sister Fanny, without comment, the fact of his having
been there. One wonders whether he witnessed the scene which Haydon goes
on in his effective way to narrate.

He had tried to treat the head of Christ unconventionally, had painted
and repainted it, and was nervous and dissatisfied over the result. The
crowd seemed doubtful too. 'Everybody seemed afraid, when in walked,
with all the dignity of her majestic presence, Mrs Siddons, like a Ceres
or a Juno. The whole room remained dead silent, and allowed her to
think. After a few minutes Sir George Beaumont, who was extremely
anxious, said in a very delicate manner, "How do you like the Christ?"
Everybody listened for her reply. After a moment, in a deep, loud,
tragic tone she said, "It is completely successful." I was then
presented with all the ceremonies of a levee, and she invited me to her
house in an awful tone.'... I think it is not recorded whether
Northcote's acid comment in a different sense, 'Mr Haydon, your ass is
the Saviour of your picture', was made on this famous occasion or
privately. Certainly the ass, judging by photographs of the picture as
it now hangs in a wrecked condition at Cincinnati, is the object that
first takes the eye with its black ears and shoulders strongly relieved
against the white drapery of Christ, and what looks like the realistic
treatment of the creature in contrast with the 'ideal,' that is the
vapidly pompous and pretentious, portraiture of geniuses past and
present, Newton, Voltaire, Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Keats, introduced among
the crowd in the foreground.[2]

In the course of April the improvement in Keats's health failed to
maintain itself. We find him complaining much of nervous irritability
and general weakness. He is recommended, one would like to know by whom,
to avoid the excitement of writing or even reading poetry and turn to
the study of geometry--of all things!--as a sedative. He has no strength
for the walk to Walthamstow to see his young sister, and even shrinks
from the fatigue of going by coach. Brown having arranged to let his
house again and go for another tramp through Scotland--not, one would
have said under the circumstances, the course of a very considerate or
solicitous friend, but he was probably misled by Keats's apparent
improvement the month before--Brown having made this arrangement, Keats,
also on the recommendation of the doctors, thinks of sailing with him on
the packet and returning alone, in hopes of getting strength from the
sea-trip to Scotland and back. This plan, when it came to the point, he
gave up, and only accompanied his friend down the river as far as
Gravesend. Having to turn out of Wentworth Place in favour of Brown's
summer tenants, he thought of taking a lodging a few doors from the
house where Leigh Hunt was then living in Kentish Town, then still a
village on the way between London and Hampstead. Almost at the same time
he writes to Dilke in regard to his future course of life, 'My mind has
been at work all over the world to find out what to do. I have my choice
of three things, or at least two, South America, or surgeon to an
Indiaman; which last, I think, will be my fate.' For the present he
moved as he had proposed to Kentish Town (2 Wesleyan Place). Here he
stayed for six or seven weeks (approximately May 6-June 23), and then,
having suffered a set-back in the shape of two slight returns of
hæmorrhage from the lung, moved for the sake of better nursing into the
household of the ever kind and affectionate, but not less ever feckless
and ill-managing, Leigh Hunts at 13 Mortimer Terrace. With them he
remained for another period of about seven weeks, ending on August 12th.

Those three months in Kentish Town were to Keats a time of distressing
weakness and for the most part of terrible inward fretfulness and
despondency. Early in the time he speaks of intending soon to begin
(meaning begin again) on _The Cap and Bells_. When we read those vivid
stanzas quoted above (p. 446) describing the welcome by the crowd of
princess Bellanaine after her aerial journey, we are inevitably reminded
of an event--the triumphal approach and entry of Queen Caroline into
London from Dover--which happened on the 9th of June this same year. It
would be tempting to suppose that Keats may have witnessed the event and
been thereby inspired to his description. But he was too ill for such
outings, and moreover the earlier of the two stanzas comes well back in
the poem (sixty-fourth out of eighty-eight) and it is impossible to
suppose that in his then state he could have added so much to the
fragment as that would imply. So we must credit the stanzas to
imagination only, and take it as certain that his only real occupation
with poetry in these days was in passing through the press the new
volume of poems (_Lamia_, _Isabella_, etc.,) which his friends had at
last persuaded him to put forward. Even on this task his hold must have
been loose, seeing that the publishers put in without his knowledge a
note which he afterwards sharply disowned, to the effect that his reason
for dropping _Hyperion_ had been the ill reception of _Endymion_ by the
critics.

His only outing, so far as we hear, was to an exhibition of English
historical portraits at the British Institution, of which he writes to
Brown with some interest and vividness. He tells at the same time of an
invitation, which he was not well enough to accept, to meet Wordsworth,
Southey, Lamb, Haydon, and some others at supper. Leigh Hunt, despite
his engrossing literary and editorial occupations and a recent trying
illness of his own, did his best, while Keats was his inmate, to keep
him interested and amused. Keats in writing to his sister gratefully
acknowledges as much. 'Mr Hunt does everything in his power to make the
time pass as agreeably with me as possible. I read the greatest part of
the day and generally take two half-hour walks a day up and down the
terrace which is very much pester'd with cries, ballad singers, and
street music.' But the obsession of his passion, its consuming jealousy
and hopelessness, gave him little respite. He would keep his eyes fixed
all day, as he afterwards avowed, on Hampstead; and once when, at Hunt's
suggestion, they took a drive as far as the Heath, he burst into a flood
of unwonted tears and declared his heart was breaking.

His letters to his beloved in these same months are too agonizing to
read. He is so little himself in them, so merely and utterly, to borrow
words of his own, 'a fever of himself,' that many of us could not
endure, when they were first published, the thought of this
Keats-that-is-no-Keats being exposed before a hastily reading and
carelessly judging after-world, and even now cannot but regret it. All
the morbid self-torturing elements of his nature, which in health it had
been a main part of the battle of his life to subdue, and of which he
never suffered those about him to see a sign, now burst from control and
flamed out against the girl he loved and the friends he loved next best
to her. Once only, at the beginning of the time, he could write
contentedly, telling her that he is marking for her the most beautiful
passages in Spenser, 'comforting myself in being somewhat occupied to
give you however small a pleasure. It has lightened my time very much.
God bless you.' His other letters are in a tortured, almost frenzied,
strain of jealous suspicion and reproach against her and against those
of his intimates who had, as he imagined, disapproved their attachment,
or pried into or made light of it, or else had shown her too marked
attentions. Among the former were Reynolds and his sisters, from whom
for the time being he was tacitly estranged. Among the latter he
includes Brown and Dilke, with especial bitterness against Brown.
Between them all they had made, he vows, a football of his heart, and
again, 'Hamlet's heart was full of such misery as mine is when he cried
to Ophelia, "Go to a Nunnery, go, go!".' That these were but the
half-delirious promptings of his fevered blood is clear from the fact
that a very few weeks both before and after such outbreaks he wrote to
Brown as though counting him as much a friend as ever. As for his
betrothed, wound as his reproaches might at the time, we know from her
own words that they left no lasting impression of unkindness on her
memory. Writing in riper years to Medwin, who had asked her whether the
accounts current in Rome of Keats's violence of nature were true, she
says:--

  That his sensibility was most acute, is true, and his passions were
  very strong, but not violent, if by that term, violence of temper is
  implied. His was no doubt susceptible, but his anger seemed rather to
  turn on himself than on others, and in moments of greatest irritation,
  it was only by a sort of savage despondency that he sometimes grieved
  and wounded his friends. Violence such as the letter describes, was
  quite foreign to his nature. For more than a twelvemonth before
  quitting England, I saw him every day, often witnessed his sufferings,
  both mental and bodily, and I do not hesitate to say, that he never
  could have addressed an unkind expression, much less a violent one, to
  any human being.[3]

These words of Fanny Brawne, then Mrs Lindon, to Medwin are not well
known, and it is only fair to quote them as proving that if in youth the
lady had not been willing to sacrifice her gaieties and her pleasure in
admiration for the sake of her lover's peace of mind, she showed at any
rate in after life a true and loyal understanding of his character.

While Keats was staying in Kentish Town Severn went often to see him,
and in the second week of July writes to Haslam struggling to keep up
his hopes for their friend in spite of appearances and of Keats's own
conviction:--'It will give you pleasure to say I trust he will still
recover. His appearance is shocking and now reminds me of poor Tom and I
have been inclined to think him in the same way. For himself--he makes
sure of it--and seems prepossessed that he cannot recover--now I seem
more than ever _not_ to think so and I know you will agree with me when
you see him--are you aware another volume of Poems was published last
week--in which is "Lovely Isabel--poor simple Isabel"? I have been
delighted with this volume and think it will even please the million.'
During the same period Shelley's friends the Gisbornes twice met him at
Leigh Hunt's. The first time was on June 23. Mrs Gisborne writes in her
journal that having lately been ill he spoke little and in a low tone:
'the _Endymion_ was not mentioned, this person might not be its author;
but on observing his countenance and eyes I persuaded myself that he was
the very person.' It is always Keats's eyes that strangers thus notice
first: the late Mrs Procter, who met him only once, at a lecture of
Hazlitt's, remembered them to the end of her long life as like those of
one 'who had been looking at some glorious sight.' This first time Keats
and Mrs Gisborne had some talk about music and singing, but some three
weeks later, on July 12th, the same lady notes, 'drank tea at Mr Hunt's;
I was much pained by the sight of poor Keats, under sentence of death
from Dr Lamb. He never spoke and looks emaciated.'

Doubtless it was under the impression of this last meeting that Mr
Gisborne sent Shelley the account of Keats's state of health which moved
Shelley to write in his own and his wife's name urging that Keats should
come to Italy to avoid the English winter and take up his quarters with
or near them at Pisa. Shelley repeats nearly the same kind and just
opinion of _Endymion_ as he had previously expressed in writing to the
Olliers; saying he has lately read it again, 'and ever with a new sense
of the treasures of poetry it contains, though treasures poured forth
with indistinct profusion. This people in general will not endure, and
that is the cause of the comparatively few copies which have been sold.
I feel persuaded that you are capable of the greatest things, so you but
will.' At the same time Shelley sends Keats a copy of his _Cenci_.
Keats's answer shows him touched and grateful for the kindness offered,
but nevertheless, as always where Shelley is in question, in some degree
embarrassed and ungracious. He says nothing of the invitation to Pisa,
though he was already considering the possibility of going to winter in
Italy. As to _Endymion_, he says he would willingly unwrite it did he
care so much as once about reputation, and as to _The Cenci_, and _The
Prometheus_ announced as forthcoming, he makes the well-known, rather
obscurely worded criticism of which the main drift is that to his mind
Shelley pours out new poems too quickly and does not concentrate enough
upon the purely artistic aims and qualities of his work. These, Keats
goes on, are 'by many spirits nowadays considered the Mammon. A modern
work, it is said, must have a purpose which may be the God. An artist
must serve Mammon; he must have 'self-concentration'--selfishness,
perhaps. You, I am sure, will forgive me for sincerely remarking that
you might curb your magnanimity and be more of an artist, and load every
rift of your subject with ore.'

Keats in these admonitions was no doubt remembering views of Shelley's
such as are expressed in his words 'I consider poetry very subordinate
to moral and political science.' Judging by them, his mind would seem to
have veered back from the convictions which inspired the pre-amble to
the revised _Hyperion_ the autumn before, insisting, in language which
might almost seem borrowed from the preface to _Alastor_, on the doom
that awaits poets who play their art in selfishness instead of making it
their paramount aim to 'pour balm' upon the miseries of mankind. With
reference to the promised _Prometheus_ he adds, 'could I have my own
wish effected, you would have it still in manuscript, or be but now
putting an end to the second act. I remember your advising me not to
publish my first blights, on Hampstead Heath. I am returning advice upon
your hands.' Finally, mentioning that he is sending out a copy of his
lately published _Lamia_ volume, he says that most of its contents have
been written above two years (a slip of memory, the statement being only
true of _Isabella_ and of one or two minor pieces) and would never have
been published now but for hope of gain.

Shelley's letter was written from Pisa on the 27th of July and received
by Keats on the 13th of August. On the previous day he had fled suddenly
from under the Leigh Hunts' roof, having been thrown into a fit of
uncontrollable nervous agitation by the act of a discharged servant, who
kept back a letter to him from Fanny Brawne and on quitting the house
left it to be delivered, opened and two days late, by one of the
children. His first impulse on leaving the Hunts' was to go back to his
old lodging with Bentley the postman, but this Mrs Brawne would not hear
of, and took him into her own house, where she and her daughter for the
next few weeks nursed him and did all they could for his comfort.

During those unhappy months at Kentish Town Keats's best work was given
to the world. First, in Leigh Hunt's _Indicator_ for May 20, _La Belle
Dame sans Merci_, signed, obviously in bitterness, 'Caviare' (Hamlet's
'caviare to the general'), and unluckily enfeebled by changes for which
we find no warrant either in Keats's autograph or in extant copies made
by his friends Woodhouse and Brown. Keats's judgment in revising his own
work had evidently by this time become unsure. We have seen how in
recasting _Hyperion_ the previous autumn he changed some of the finest
of his original lines for the worse: and it is conceivable that in the
case of _La Belle Dame_ he may have done so again of his own motion, but
much more likely, I should say, that the changes, which are all in the
direction of the slipshod and the commonplace, were made on Hunt's
suggestion and that Keats acquiesced from fatigue or indifference, or
perhaps even from that very sense of lack of sympathy in most readers
which made him sign 'Caviare.' Hunt introduced the piece with some
commendatory words, showing that he at all events felt nothing amiss
with it in its new shape, and added a short account of the old French
poem by Alain Chartier from which the title was taken. It is to be
deplored that in some recent and what should be standard editions of
Keats the poem stands as thus printed in the _Indicator_, instead of in
the original form rightly given by Lord Houghton from Brown's
transcript, in which it had become a classic of the language.[4]

It is surely a perversion in textual criticism to perpetuate the worse
version merely because it happens to be the one printed in Keats's
lifetime. No sensitive reader but must feel that 'wretched wight' is a
vague and vapid substitute for the clear image of the 'knight-at-arms,'
while 'sigh'd full sore' is ill replaced by 'sighed deep,' and 'wild
wild eyes' still worse by 'wild sad eyes': that the whimsical
particularity of the 'kisses four,' removed in the new version, gives
the poem an essential part of its savour (Keats was fond of these
fanciful numberings, compare the damsels who stand 'by fives and sevens'
in the Induction to Calidore, and the 'four laurell'd spirits' in the
Epistle to George Felton Matthew): and again, that the loose broken
construction--'So kissed to sleep' is quite uncharacteristic of the
poet: and yet again, that the phrase 'And there we slumbered on the
moss,' is what any amateur rimester might write about any pair of
afternoon picknickers, while the phrase which was cancelled for it, 'And
there she lulled me asleep,' falls with exactly the mystic cadence and
hushing weight upon the spirit which was required. The reader may be
interested to hear the effect which these changes had upon the late
William Morris, than whom no man had a better right to speak. Mr Sydney
Cockerell writes me:--

  In February 1894 the last sheets of the Kelmscott Press Keats, edited
  by F. S. Ellis, were being printed. A specimen of each sheet of every
  book was brought in to Morris as soon as it came off the press. I was
  with him when he happened to open the sheet on which _La Belle Dame
  sans Merci_ was printed. He began to read it and was suddenly aware of
  unfamiliar words, 'wretched wight' for 'knight at arms,' verses 4 and
  5 transposed, and several changes in verse 7. Great was his
  indignation. He swiftly altered the words and then read the poem to
  me, remarking that it was the germ from which all the poetry of his
  group had sprung--The sheet was reprinted and the earlier and better
  version restored--I still have the cancelled sheet with his
  corrections.

Six weeks later, in the first days of July, appeared the volume _Lamia,
Isabella, and other Poems_ in right of which Keats's name is immortal.
_La Belle Dame_ was not in it, nor _In drear-nighted December_, nor any
sonnets, nor any of the verses composed on the Scotch tour, nor the
fragment of _The Eve of St Mark_, nor, happily, _The Cap and Bells_: but
it included all the odes except that on Indolence and the fragment _To
Maia_, as well as nearly all the other minor pieces of any account
written since _Endymion_, such as _Fancy_, the _Mermaid Tavern_ and
_Robin Hood_ lines, with the three finished Tales, _Isabella_, _The Eve
of St Agnes_, and _Lamia_, and the great fragment of _Hyperion_ in its
original, not its recast, form. Keats was too far gone in illness and
the hopelessness of passion to be much moved by the success or failure
of his new venture. But the story of its first reception is part of his
biography, and shall be briefly told in this place.

The first critic in the field was the best: no less a master than
Charles Lamb, who within a fortnight of the appearance of the volume
contributed to the _New Times_ a brief notice, anonymous but marked with
all the charm and authority of his genius.[5] He begins by quoting the
four famous stanzas picturing Madeline at her prayers in the moonlit
chamber, and comments--'Like the radiance, which comes from those old
windows upon the limbs and garments of the damsel, is the almost
Chaucer-like painting, with which this poet illumes every subject he
touches. We have scarcely anything like it in modern description. It
brings us back to ancient days and "Beauty making-beautiful old
rhymes."' 'The finest thing,' Lamb continues, 'in the volume is _The Pot
of Basil_.' Noting how the anticipation of the assassination is
wonderfully conceived in the one epithet of 'the _murder'd_ man,' he
goes on to quote the stanzas telling the discovery of and digging for
the corpse, 'than which,' he says. 'there is nothing more awfully simple
in diction, more nakedly grand and moving in sentiment, in Dante, in
Chaucer or in Spenser.' It is to be noted that Lamb, who loved things
Gothic better than things Grecian, ignores _Hyperion_, which most
critics in praising the volume pitched on to the neglect of the rest,
and proceeds to tell of _Lamia_, winding up with a return to _The Pot of
Basil_:--

  More exuberantly rich in imagery and painting is the story of the
  _Lamia_. It is of as gorgeous stuff as ever romance was composed of.
  Her first appearance in serpentine form--

    --A beauteous wreath with melancholy eyes--

  her dialogue with Hermes, the _Star of Lethe_, as he is called by one
  of these prodigal phrases which Mr Keats abounds in, which are each a
  poem in a word, and which in this instance lays open to us at once,
  like a picture, all the dim regions and their inhabitants, and the
  sudden coming of a celestial among them; the charming of her into
  woman's shape again by the God; her marriage with the beautiful
  Lycius; her magic palace, which those who knew the street, and
  remembered it complete from childhood, never remembered to have seen
  before; the few Persian mutes, her attendants,

                          --who that same year
    Were seen about the markets: none knew where
    They could inhabit;--

  the high-wrought splendours of the nuptial bower, with the fading of
  the whole pageantry, Lamia, and all, away, before the glance of
  Apollonius,--are all that fairy land can do for us. They are for
  younger impressibilities. To _us_ an ounce of feeling is worth a pound
  of fancy; and therefore we recur again, with a warmer gratitude, to
  the story of Isabella and the pot of basil, and those never-cloying
  stanzas which we have cited, and which we think should disarm
  criticism, if it be not in its nature cruel; if it would not deny to
  honey its sweetness, nor to roses redness, nor light to the stars in
  Heaven; if it would not bay the moon out of the skies, rather than
  acknowledge she is fair.

Leigh Hunt, who during all this time was in all ways loyally doing his
best for Keats's encouragement and comfort, and had just dedicated his
translation of Tasso's _Aminta_ to him as to one 'equally pestered by
the critical and admired by the poetical,'--Leigh Hunt within a month of
the appearance of the volume reviewed and quoted from it with full
appreciation in two numbers of the _Indicator_. His notice contained
those judicious remarks which we have already cited on the philosophical
weakness of _Lamia_, praising at the same time the gorgeousness of the
snake description, and saying, of the lines on the music being the sole
support of the magical palace-roof, 'this is the very quintessence of
the romantic.' 'When Mr Keats errs in his poetry,' says Hunt in regard
to the _Pot of Basil_, 'it is from the ill-management of a good
thing--exuberance of ideas'; and, comparing the contents of this volume
with his earlier work, concludes as follows:--

  The author's versification is now perfected, the exuberances of his
  imagination restrained, and a calm power, the surest and loftiest of
  all power, takes place of the impatient workings of the younger god
  within him. The character of his genius is that of energy and
  voluptuousness, each able at will to take leave of the other, and
  possessing, in their union, a high feeling of humanity not common to
  the best authors who can less combine them. Mr Keats undoubtedly takes
  his seat with the oldest and best of our living poets.

But Leigh Hunt's praise of one of his own supposed disciples of the
Cockney School would carry little weight outside the circle of special
sympathizers. A better index to the way the wind was beginning to blow
was the treatment of the volume in Colburn's _New Monthly Magazine_, of
which the poet Thomas Campbell had lately been appointed editor, with
the excellent Cyrus Redding as acting editor under him:--'These poems
are very far superior', declares the critic, 'to any which the author
has previously committed to the press. They have nothing showy, or
extravagant, or eccentric about them; but are pieces of calm beauty, or
of lone and self-supported grandeur.' In _Lamia_, 'there is a mingling
of Greek majesty with fairy luxuriance which we have not elsewhere
seen.' _Isabella_ is compared with Barry Cornwall's _Sicilian Story_:
'the poem of Mr Keats has not the luxury of description, nor the rich
love-scenes, of Mr Cornwall; but he tells the tale with a naked and
affecting simplicity which goes irresistibly to the heart. _The Eve of
St Agnes_ is 'a piece of consecrated fancy', in which 'a soft religious
light is shed over the whole story.' In _Hyperion_ 'the picture of the
vast abode of Cybele and the Titans is 'in the sublimest style of
Æschylus': and in conclusion the critic takes leave of Mr Keats 'with
wonder at the gigantic stride which he has taken, and with the good
hope that if he proceeds in the high and pure style which he has now
chosen, he will attain an exalted and a lasting station among English
poets.' Of the other chief literary reviews in England, the
old-established _Monthly_ begins in a strain scarcely less laudatory,
but wavers and becomes admonitory before the end, while Keats's dismal
monitor of three years before, the sententious _Eclectic Review_,
acknowledging in him 'a young man possessed of an elegant fancy, a warm
and lively imagination, and something above the average talents of
persons who take to writing poetry', proceeds to warn him against
regarding imagination as the proper organ of poetry, to lecture him on
his choice of subjects, his addiction to the Greek mythology, and to
poetry for poetry's sake ('poetry, after all, if pursued as an end, is
but child's play'). The _British Critic_, more contemptuous even than
Blackwood or the Quarterly in its handling of _Endymion_, this time
prints a kind of palinode, admitting that 'Mr Keats is a person of no
ordinary genius', and prophesying that if he will take Spenser and
Milton for models instead of Leigh Hunt he 'need not despair of
attaining to a very high and enviable place in the public esteem'.

Writing to Brown from Hampstead in the latter half of August, Keats
seems aware that the critics are being kinder to him than before. 'My
book,' he says, 'has had good success among the literary people, and I
believe has a moderate sale;' and again, 'the sale of my book has been
very slow, but it has been very highly rated.' The great guns of
Scottish criticism had not yet spoken. Constable's _Edinburgh_ (formerly
the _Scots_) _Magazine_, which never either hit or bit hard, and whose
managers had preferred the ways of prudence when Bailey urged them two
years before boldly to denounce the outrages of the 'Z' gang in
Blackwood, in due course praised Keats's new volume, but cautiously,
saying that 'it must and ought to attract attention, for it displays the
ore of true poetic genius, though mingled with a large portion of
dross.... He is continually shocking our ideas of poetical decorum, at
the very time when we are acknowledging the hand of genius. In thus
boldly running counter to old opinions, however, we cannot conceive that
Mr Keats merits bitter contempt or ridicule; the weapons which are too
frequently employed when liberal discussion and argument would be
unsuccessful.' As to _Blackwood's Magazine_ itself, we are fortunate in
having an amusing first-hand narrative of an encounter of its owner and
manager with Keats's publisher which preceded the appearance of Keats's
new volume. The excellent Taylor, staunch to his injured young friend
and client even at some risk, as in his last words he shows himself
aware, to his own interests, writes from Fleet Street on the last day of
August to his partner Hessey:--

  I have had this day a call from Mr Blackwood. We shook hands and went
  into the Back Shop. After asking him what was new at Edinburgh, and
  talking about Clare, the _Magazine_, Baldwin, Peter Corcoran and a few
  other subjects,[6] I observed that we had published another Volume of
  Keats's Poems on which his Editors would have another opportunity of
  being witty at his expense. He said they were disposed to speak
  favourably of Mr K. this time--and he expected that the article would
  have appeared in this month's mag.

  'But can they be so inconsistent?' 'There is no inconsistency in
  praising him if they think he deserves it.' 'After what has been said
  of his talents I should think it very inconsistent.' 'Certainly they
  found fault with his former Poems but that was because they thought
  they deserved it.' 'But why did they attack him personally?' 'They did
  not do so.'

  'No? Did not they speak of him in ridicule as Johnny Keats, describe
  his appearance while addressing a Sonnet to Ailsa Crag, and compare
  him as a (?) hen to Shelley as a Bird of Paradise, besides, what can
  you say to that cold blooded passage when they say they will take
  care he shall never get £50 again for a vol. of his Poems--what had he
  done to deserve such attacks as these?'

  'Oh, it was all a joke, the writer meant nothing more than to be
  witty. He certainly thought there was much affectation in his Poetry,
  and he expressed his opinion only--It was done in the fair spirit of
  criticism.'

  'It was done in the Spirit of the Devil, Mr Blackwood. So if a young
  man is guilty of affectation while he is walking the streets it is
  fair in another Person because he dislikes it to come and knock him
  down.'

  'No,' says B., 'but a poet challenges public opinion by printing his
  book, but I suppose you would have them not criticized at all?'

  'I certainly think they are punished enough by neglect and by the
  failure of their hopes and to me it seems very cruel to abuse a man
  merely because he cannot give us as much pleasure as he wishes. But
  you go even beyond his ...(?) you strike a man when he is down. He
  gets a violent blow from the Quarterly--and then you begin.'

  'I beg your pardon,' says B., 'we were the first.'

  'I think not, but if you were the first, you continued it after, for
  that truly diabolical thrust about the £50 appeared after the critique
  in the Quarterly.'

  'You mistake that altogether,' said B., 'the writer does not like the
  Cockney School, so he went on joking Mr K. about it.'

  'Why should not the manners of gentlemen continue to regulate their
  conduct when they are writing of each other as much as when they are
  in conversation? No man would insult Mr Keats in this manner in his
  company, and what is the difference between writing and speaking of a
  person except that the written attack is the more base from being made
  anonymously and therefore at no personal risk.--I feel regard for Mr
  Keats as a man of real Genius, a Gentleman, nay more, one of the
  gentlest of Human Beings. He does not resent these things himself, he
  merely says of his Opponents "They don't know me." Now this
  mildness(?) his friends feel the more severely when they see him ill
  used. But this feeling is not confined to them. I am happy to say that
  the Public Interest is awakened to the sense of the Injustice which
  has been done him and the attempts to ruin him will have in the end a
  contrary effect.' Here I turned the conversation to another subject by
  asking B. if he read the _Abbot_, and in about 10 minutes more he made
  his Exit with a formal Bow and a Good Morning.

  The above is the Substance and as clearly as possible the words, I
  made use of. His replies were a little more copious than I have
  stated but to the same effect. I have written this conversation down
  on the day it took place because I suspect some allusion may hereafter
  be made to it in the Mag. and I fully expect that whatever Books we
  publish will be received with reference to the feeling it is
  calculated to excite in the bosoms of these freebooting....[7]

In the upshot, the Blackwood critics took no direct notice of the
_Lamia_ volume at all, but made occasion during the autumn to say their
new say about Keats in a review of Shelley's _Prometheus Unbound_. This
time the hand is unmistakably that of Wilson. For the last year or more
Wilson, following a hint given him by De Quincey, had chosen to take
Shelley boisterously under his patronage as a poet of true genius, for
whom scarcely any praise would be too high could he only be weaned from
his impious opinions. Now, after rebutting a current and really
gratuitous charge that the magazine praised Shelley from the knowledge
that he was a man of means and family, and denounced Hunt and Keats
because they were poor and struggling, the critic blusters
characteristically on, in a strain half apologetic in one breath and in
the next as odiously insolent as ever:--

  As for Mr Keats, we are informed that he is in a very bad state of
  health, and that his friends attribute a great deal of it to the pain
  he has suffered from the critical castigation his _Endymion_ drew down
  on him in this magazine. If it be so, we are most heartily sorry for
  it, and have no hesitation in saying, that had we suspected that young
  author, of being so delicately nerved, we should have administered our
  reproof in a much more lenient shape and style. The truth is, we from
  the beginning saw marks of feeling and power in Mr Keats's verses,
  which made us think it very likely, he might become a real poet in
  England, provided he could be persuaded to give up all the tricks of
  Cockneyism, and forswear for ever the thin potations of Mr Leigh Hunt.
  We, therefore, rated him as roundly as we decently could do, for the
  flagrant affectations of those early productions of his. In the last
  volume he has published we find more beauties than in the former, both
  of language and of thought, but we are sorry to say, we find abundance
  of the same absurd affectations also, and superficial conceits, which
  first displeased us in his writings;--and which we are again very
  sorry to say, must in our opinion, if persisted in, utterly and
  entirely prevent Mr Keats from ever taking his place among the pure
  and classical poets of his mother tongue. It is quite ridiculous to
  see how the vanity of these Cockneys makes them overrate their own
  importance, even in the eyes of us, that have always expressed such
  plain unvarnished contempt for them, and who do feel for them all, a
  contempt too calm and profound, to admit of any admixture of anything
  like anger or personal spleen. We should just as soon think of being
  wroth with vermin, independently of their coming into our apartment,
  as we should of having any feelings at all about any of these people,
  other than what are excited by seeing them in the shape of authors.
  Many of them, considered in any other character than that of authors,
  are, we have no doubt, entitled to be considered as very worthy people
  in their own way. Mr Hunt is said to be a very amiable man in his own
  sphere, and we believe him to be so willingly. Mr Keats we have often
  heard spoken of in terms of great kindness, and we have no doubt his
  manners and feelings are calculated to make his friends love him. But
  what has all this to do with our opinion of their poetry? What, in the
  name of wonder, does it concern us, whether these men sit among
  themselves, with mild or with sulky faces, eating their mutton steaks,
  and drinking their porter at Highgate, Hampstead, or Lisson Green?...
  Last of all, what should forbid us to announce our opinion, that Mr
  Shelley, as a man of genius, is not merely superior, either to Mr
  Hunt, or to Mr Keats, but altogether out of their sphere, and totally
  incapable of ever being brought into the most distant comparison with
  either of them.

The critical utterance on Keats's side likely to tell most with general
readers was that of Jeffrey in the _Edinburgh Review_. A year earlier
Keats had written from Winchester expressing impatience at what he
thought the cowardice of the Edinburgh in keeping silence as to
_Endymion_ in face of the Quarterly attack. 'They do not know what to
make of it, and they will not praise it for fear. They are as shy of it
as I should be of wearing a Quaker's hat. The fact is they have no real
taste. They dare not compromise their judgments on so puzzling a
question. If on my next publication they should praise me, and so lug in
_Endymion_, I will address them in a manner they will not at all relish.
The cowardliness of the Edinburgh is more than the abuse of the
Quarterly'. Exactly what Keats had anticipated now took place. Jeffrey's
natural taste in poetry was conservative, and favoured the correct, the
classical and traditional: but in this case, whether from genuine and
personal opinion, or to please influential well-wishers of Keats on his
own side in politics and criticism like Sir James Mackintosh, he on the
appearance of the new volume took occasion to print, now when Keats was
far past caring about it, an article on his work which was mainly in
eulogy of _Endymion_: eulogy not unmixed with reasonable criticism, but
in a strain, on the whole, gushing almost to excess:--

  We had never happened to see either of these volumes till very
  lately--and have been exceedingly struck with the genius they display,
  and the spirit of poetry which breathes through all their
  extravagance. That imitation of our older writers, and especially of
  our older dramatists, to which we cannot help flattering ourselves
  that we have somewhat contributed, has brought on, as it were, a
  second spring in our poetry;--and few of its blossoms are either more
  profuse of sweetness or richer in promise than this which is now
  before us. Mr Keats, we understand, is still a very young man; and his
  whole works, indeed, bear evidence enough of the fact. They are full
  of extravagance and irregularity, rash attempts at originality,
  interminable wanderings, and excessive obscurity. They manifestly
  require, therefore, all the indulgence that can be claimed for a first
  attempt: but we think it no less plain that they deserve it; for they
  are flushed all over with the rich lights of fancy, and so coloured
  and bestrewn with the flowers of poetry, that even while perplexed and
  bewildered in their labyrinths, it is impossible to resist the
  intoxication of their sweetness, or to shut our hearts to the
  enchantments they so lavishly present. The models upon which he has
  formed himself, in the _Endymion_, the earliest and by much the most
  considerable of his poems, are obviously the _Faithful Shepherdess_ of
  Fletcher, and the _Sad Shepherd_ of Ben Jonson;--the exquisite metres
  and inspired diction of which he has copied, with great boldness and
  fidelity--and, like his great originals, has also contrived to impart
  to the whole piece that true rural and poetical air which breathes
  only in them and in Theocritus--which is at once homely and majestic,
  luxurious and rude, and sets before us the genuine sights and sounds
  and smells of the country, with all the magic and grace of Elysium.

Then, after acknowledgment of the confusedness of the narrative and the
fantastic wilfulness of some of the incidents and style, the critic goes
on:--

  There is no work, accordingly, from which a malicious critic could
  cull more matter for ridicule, or select more obscure, unnatural, or
  absurd passages. But we do not take _that_ to be our office:--and just
  beg leave, on the contrary, to say, that any one who, on this account,
  would represent the whole poem as despicable, must either have no
  notion of poetry, or no regard to truth. It is, in truth, at least is
  full of genius as of absurdity; and he who does not find a great deal
  in it to admire and to give delight, cannot in his heart see much
  beauty in the two exquisite dramas to which we have already alluded,
  or find any great pleasure in some of the finest creations of Milton
  and Shakespeare. There are many such persons, we verily believe, even
  among the reading and judicious part of the community--correct
  scholars we have no doubt many of them, and, it may be, very classical
  composers in prose and in verse--but utterly ignorant of the true
  genius of English poetry, and incapable of estimating its appropriate
  and most exquisite beauties. With that spirit we have no hesitation in
  saying that Mr K. is deeply imbued--and of those beauties he has
  presented us with many striking examples. We are very much inclined
  indeed to add, that we do not know any book which we would sooner
  employ as a test to ascertain whether anyone had in him a native
  relish for poetry, and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm.

One immediate result of the Edinburgh criticism was to provoke an almost
incredible outburst of jealous fury on the part of the personage then
most conspicuous on the stage of England's, nay of the world's, poetry,
Lord Byron. Byron, with next to no real critical power, could bring
dazzling resources of wit and rhetoric to the support of any random
opinion, traditional or revolutionary, he might happen by whim or habit
to entertain. In these days he was just entering the lists as a
self-appointed champion of Pope, the artificial school, and eighteenth
century critical tradition in general, against Pope's latest editor and
depreciator, the clerical sonneteer William Lisle Bowles. Ever since the
Pope-Boileau passage in Keats's _Sleep and Poetry_ it had been Byron's
pleasure to regard Keats with gratuitous contempt and aversion. When
Murray sent him the _Lamia_ volume with a parcel of other books to
Ravenna, he wrote back, 'Pray send me _no more_ poetry but what is rare
and decidedly good. There is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my
tables that I am ashamed to look at them.... No more Keats, I
entreat;--flay him alive; if some of you don't I must skin him myself;
there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.' A month
later, evidently not having read a word of Keats's book, he comes across
Jeffrey's praise of it in the _Edinburgh Review_, and thereupon falls
into a fit of anger so foul-mouthed and outrageous that his latest, far
from squeamish editors have had to mask its grossness under a cloud of
asterisks. A little later he repeats the same disgusting obscenities in
cool blood: his only quotable remark on the subject being as
follows:--'Of the praises of that little dirty blackguard Keates in the
Edinburgh, I shall observe as Johnson did when Sheridan the actor got a
_pension_: "What, has he got a pension? Then it is time I should give up
_mine_." Nobody could be prouder of the praises of the Edinburgh than I
was, or more alive to their censure. At present all the men they have
ever praised are degraded by that insane article.' By and by he
proceeded to administer his own castigation to 'Mr John Ketch' in a
second letter written for the Pope-Bowles controversy: but Keats having
died meanwhile he withheld this from publication, and a little later,
perhaps at the prompting of his own better mind, but more probably
through the good influence of Shelley, took in _Don Juan_ the altered
tone about Keats which all the world knows, and having been at first
thus savagely bent on hunting with the hounds, turned and chose to run
part of the way, as far as suited him, with the hare.

Shelley, of course, judged for himself; was incapable of a thought
towards a brother poet that was not generous; and had moreover a feeling
of true and particular kindness towards Keats. We have seen how wisely
and fairly he judged _Endymion_. Were we to take merely his own words
written at the time, we might think that he failed to do justice to the
new volume as a whole. His first impression of it, coupled with a wildly
overdrawn picture which had reached him of Keats's sufferings under the
stings of the reviewers, apparently determined him to sit down and draft
that indignant letter to Gifford, never completed or delivered, pleading
against the repetition of any such treatment of his new volume as
_Endymion_ had received from the _Quarterly_. In this Shelley speaks of
_Hyperion_ as though it were the one thing he admired in the book: and
writing about the same time to Peacock, he says 'Among modern things
which have reached me is a volume of poems by Keats; in other respects
insignificant enough, but containing the fragment of a poem called
_Hyperion_. I dare say you have not time to read it; but it certainly is
an astonishing piece of writing, and gives me a conception of Keats
which I confess I had not before.' And again, 'Among your anathemas of
modern poetry, do you include Keats's _Hyperion_? I think it very fine.
His other poems are worth little; but if the _Hyperion_ be not grand
poetry, none has been produced by our contemporaries.' In considering
these utterances we should remember that they were addressed to
correspondents bound to be unsympathetic. Gifford would be so as a
matter of course: while Peacock had from old Marlow days been a
disbeliever in Keats and his poetry, and had lately adopted a public
attitude of disbelief in modern poetry altogether. We must also remember
that Shelley had himself been wrought into a mood of unwonted
intolerance of certain fashions in poetry by some of Barry Cornwall's
recent performances, which he held to be an out-Hunting of Hunt and
out-Byroning of Byron.[8] There is a statement of Medwin's which, if
Medwin were ever a witness much to be trusted, we would rather take as
representing Shelley's ripened and permanent opinion of the contents of
the _Lamia_ volume than his own words to Gifford or Peacock. 'He
perceived', says Medwin, 'in every one of these productions a marked and
continually progressing improvement, and hailed with delight his release
from his leading strings, his emancipation from what he called a
"perverse and limited school". _The Pot of Basil_ and _The Eve of St
Agnes_ he read and re-read with ever new delight, and looked upon
_Hyperion_ as almost faultless, grieving that it was but a fragment and
that Keats had not been encouraged to complete a work worthy of Milton.'
At all events Shelley, apart from the immortal tribute of _Adonais_, has
left other words of his own which may content us, addressed to a
different correspondent, as to what he felt about Keats and his work and
promise on the whole, without reference to one poem rather than another.
I mean those in which he expresses to Mrs Leigh Hunt his hope to see and
take care of Keats in Italy:--'I consider his a most valuable life, and
I am deeply interested in his safety. I intend to be the physician both
of his body and of his soul, to keep the one warm, and to teach the
other Greek and Spanish. I am aware, indeed, in part, that I am
nourishing a rival who will far surpass me; and this is an additional
motive, and will be an added pleasure.'

The opinions of neither of these two famous men, Byron and Shelley, will
have had any immediate effect in England. Murray could not possibly
disseminate Byron's private obscenities, and Byron's own intended public
castigation of Keats in a second letter to Bowles was, as we have seen,
withheld. On the other side Shelley made no public use of the draft of
his indignant letter to Gifford, and Peacock would not be by way of
saying much about his private expressions of enthusiasm for _Hyperion_.
But we can gather the impression current in sympathetic circles about
Keats's future from a couple of entries in the December diaries of Crabb
Robinson. He tells how he has been reading out some of the new volume,
first _Hyperion_ and then _The Pot of Basil_, to his friends the Aders',
and adds,--'There is a force, wildness, and originality in the works of
this young poet which, if his perilous journey to Italy does not destroy
him, promise to place him at the head of our next generation of poets.
Lamb places him next to Wordsworth--not meaning any comparison, for they
are dissimilar' ... and again, 'I am greatly mistaken if Keats do not
soon take a high place among our poets. Great feeling and a powerful
imagination are shown in this little volume.' Had his health held out,
such recognition would have been all and more than all Keats asked for
or would have thought he had yet earned. But praise and dispraise were
all one to him before now, and we must go back and follow the tragedy of
his personal history to its close.


FOOTNOTES:

  [1] A letter of Procter's to Keats shows that he had been among
    Keats's visitors during the weeks that followed his attack of
    hæmorrhage (see Buxton Forman, _Complete Works_, v. 163). Whether
    they had been much or at all acquainted before then seems uncertain,
    but Procter's impressions of Keats recorded almost half a century
    later read as though he had known him while still in health:--

      'I saw him only two or three times before his departure for Italy.
      I was introduced to him by Leigh Hunt, and found him very
      p