Imatges de pÓgina

from Ambleside to the foot of Helvellyn, where they slept, having called by the way on Wordsworth at Rydal, and been disappointed to find him away electioneering. From Helvellyn to Keswick, whence they made the circuit of Derwentwater; Keswick to Treby, Treby to Wigton, and Wigton to Carlisle, where they arrived on the 1st of July. Thence by coach to Dumfries, visiting at the latter place the tomb and house of Burns, to whose memory Keats wrote a sonnet, by no means in his best vein. From Dumfries they started south-westwards for Galloway, a region little frequented even now, and then hardly at all, by tourists. Reaching the Kirkcudbrightshire coast, with its scenery at once wild and soft, its embosomed inlets and rocky tufted headlands, its views over the glimmering Solway to the hazy hills of Man, Brown bethought him that this was Guy Mannering's country, and began to tell 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, had read the Antiquary but not Guy Mannering, was much struck; and presently, writes Brown, "there was a little spot, close to our pathway. 'There,' he said, 'in that very spot, without a shadow of doubt, has old Meg Merrilies often boiled her kettle.' It was among pieces of rock and brambles and broom, ornamented with a profusion of honeysuckles and roses and foxgloves, and all in the very blush and fulness of blossom." As they went along, Keats composed on Scott's theme the spirited ballad beginning "Old Meg, she was a gypsy," and stopping to breakfast at Auchencairn, copied it out in a letter which he was writing to his young sister at odd moments, and again in another letter which he began at the same place to Tom. 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 system

atic 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 5th-skirting the wild moors about the Water of Fleet, and passing where Cairnsmore looks down over wooded slopes to the steaming estuary of the Cree-as far as Newton Stewart; thence across the Wigtonshire levels by Glenluce to Stranraer and Portpatrick. Here they took the Donaghadee packet for Ireland, with the intention of seeing the Giant's Causeway, but finding the distances and expense exceed their calculation, contented themselves with a walk to Belfast, and crossed again to Portpatrick on the third day. In letters written during and immediately after this excursion, Keats has some striking passages of human observation and reflection:

"These Kirk-men have done Scotland good. They have made men, women, old men, young men, old women, young women, hags, girls, and infants, all careful; so they are formed into regular phalanges of savers and gainers. . . . These Kirk-men have done Scotland harm; they have banished puns, love, and laughing. 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 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."

"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 !"

From Stranraer the friends made straight for Burns's country, walking along the coast by Ballantrae, Girvan, Kirkoswald, and Maybole, to Ayr, with the lonely mass of Ailsa Crag, and presently the mountains of Arran, looming ever above the Atlantic floor on the left; and here again we find Keats taking a keen pleasure in the mingled richness and wildness of the coast scenery. They went to Kirk Alloway, and he was delighted to find the home of Burns amid scenes so fair. He had made up his mind to write a sonnet in the cottage of that poet's birth, and did so, but was worried by the prate of the man in charge— "a mahogany-faced old jackass who knew Burns: he ought to have been kicked for having spoken to him ""his gab hindered my sublimity: the flat dog made me write a flat sonnet." And again, as they journeyed on towards Glasgow he composed with considerable pains (as Brown particularly mentions) the lines beginning 'There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain.' They were meant to express the temper in which his pilgrimage through the Burns country had been made, but in spite of an occasional striking breadth and concentration of imagery, are on the whole forced and unlike himself.

From Ayr Keats and Brown tramped on to Glasgow, and from Glasgow by Dumbarton through the Lady of the

Lake country, which they found vexatiously full of tourists, to Inverary, and thence by Loch Awe to Oban. At Inverary Keats was 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 gadflies, and vented his smart in a set of doggerel rhymes. The walk along the shores of Loch Awe impressed him greatly, and for once he writes of it something like a set description, for the benefit of his brother Tom. 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 sleep and appetite; telling her how he tumbled into bed "so fatigued that when I am asleep you might sew my nose to my great toe and trundle me round the town, like a hoop, without waking me. Then 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." Presently 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 coarse fare and accommodation, and rough journeys and frequent drenchings, begin to tell upon both him and Brown, and he grumbles at the perpetual diet of oatcake and eggs. Arrived at Oban, 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, they were persuaded to take the ferry to the hither side of the island of Mull, and then with a guide cross on foot to the farther side opposite Iona: a wretched walk, as Keats calls it, of some thirty-seven miles, over difficult ground and in the very roughest weather. By good luck the sky lifted at


the critical moment, and the travellers had a favourable view of Staffa. By the power of the past and its associations in the one illustrious island," and of nature's architecture in the other, Keats shows himself naturally much impressed. Fingal's Cave in especial touched his imagination, and on it and its profanation by the race of tourists he wrote, in the seven-syllable metre which no writer since Ben Jonson has handled better or more vigorously, the lines beginning "Not Aladdin Magian." Avoiding mere epithet-work and description, like the true poet he is, he begins by calling up for comparison the 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 "

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 ends with a fine abruptness which is the most effective stroke of art in the piece:

"So for ever I will leave

Such a taint, and soon unweave

All the magic of the place!'

So saying, with a spirit's glance

He dived."

From the exertion and exposure which he underwent on his Scotch tour, and especially in this Mull expedition, are to be traced the first distinct and settled symptoms of failure in Keats's health, and of the development of his hered

1 See Appendix, p. 223.

« AnteriorContinua »