Imatges de pàgina

mate and so affectionate as Severn, never realised until Keats was on his death-bed that there had been an engagement, or that his relations with Miss Brawne had been other than those of ordinary intimacy between neighbours.

Intense and jealous as Keats's newly awakened passion was, it seemed at first to stimulate rather than distract him in the exercise of his now ripened poetic gift. The spring of this year, 1819, seems to repeat in a richer key the history of the last; fits of inspiration succeeding to fits of lassitude, and growing more frequent as the season advanced. Between the beginning of February and the beginning of June he wrote many of his best shorter poems, including apparently all except one of his six famous odes. About the middle of February he speaks of having taken a stroll among the marbles of the British Museum, and the ode On Indolence and the ode On a Grecian Urn, written two or three months later, show how the charm of ancient sculpture was at this time working in his mind. The fit of morning idleness which helped to inspire the former piece is recorded in his correspondence under the date of March 19th. The lines beginning "Bards of passion and of mirth are dated the 26th of the same month. On the 15th of April he sends off to his brother, as the last poem he has written, the ode To Psyche, only less perfect and felicitous than that On a Grecian Urn. About a week later the nightingale would be beginning to sing. Presently it appeared that one had built her nest in Brown's garden, near his house.

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Keats," ," writes Brown, "felt a tranquil and continual joy in her song; and one morning he took his chair from the breakfast-table to the grass-plot under a plum, where he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, and these he was quietly thrusting behind the books.

On inquiry, I found those scraps, four or five in number, contained his poetic feeling on the song of our nightingale. The writing was not well legible, and it was difficult to arrange the stanzas on so many scraps. With his assistance I succeeded, and this was his Ode to a Nightingale.... Immediately afterwards I searched for more of his (in reality) fugitive pieces, in which task, at my request, he again assisted me. ... From that day he gave me permission to copy any verses he might write, and I fully availed myself of it. He cared so little for them himself, when once, as it appeared to me, his imagination was released from their influence, that he required a friend at hand to preserve them "

The above account perfectly agrees with what Keats had written towards the end of the summer before: "I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever rest upon them." And yet for these odes Keats seems to have had a partiality; with that to Psyche, he tells his brother he has taken more pains than with anything he had ever written before; and Haydon has told how thrillingly, "in his low tremulous under-tone," he recited to him that to the nightingale as they walked one day in the Kilburn meadows.

During the winter and spring, while his faculties were thus absorbed between love and poetry, Keats had suffered his correspondence to flag, except only with Haydon, with his young sister Fanny, and with his brother and sister-in-law in America. About Christmas, Haydon, whose work had been interrupted by a weakness of the eyes, and whose borrowing powers were for the time being exhausted, had turned in his difficulties to Keats, of all men. With his usual generosity Keats had promised, only asking him to try the rich lovers of art first, that if the worst came to the worst he would help him with all

he had. Haydon in a few weeks returns to the charge: "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 after much correspondence, attendance in bankers' and solicitors' offices, and other ordeals harassing to the poetic mind, 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 with perfect 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 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. Three months later a law-suit, threatened by the widow of Captain Jennings against Mr. Abbey, in connection with the administration of the trust, had the effect for a time of stopping his supplies from that quarter altogether. Thereupon he very gently asks Haydon to make an effort to repay his loan; who not only made none "he did not," says Keats, seem to care much about it, but let me go without my 1 See Appendix, p. 224.


money almost with nonchalance." This was too much even for Keats's patience. 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.

To his young sister Keats's letters during the same period are full of playful brotherly tenderness and careful advice; of regrets that she is kept so much from him by the scruples of Mr. and Mrs. Abbey; and of plans for coming over to see her at Walthamstow when the weather and his throat allow. He thinks of various little presents to please her—a selection of Tassie's pretty, and then popular, paste imitations of ancient gems -flowersdrawing materials

"anything but live stock. 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; but verily they are better in the trees and the water-though I must confess even now a partiali. ty 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."

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. In the middle of April news of them arrives, and he there

upon sends off to them a long journal-letter which he has been writing up at intervals during the last two months. Among all the letters of Keats, this is perhaps the richest and most characteristic. It is full of the varied matter of his thoughts, excepting always his thoughts of love: these are only to be discerned in one trivial allusion, and more indistinctly in the vaguely passionate tenor of two sonnets which he sends among other specimens of his latest work in verse. One is that beginning "Why did I laugh to-night?" the other that, beautiful and moving despite flaws of execution, in which he describes a dream suggested by the Paolo and Francesca passage in Dante. For the rest he passes disconnectedly as usual-" it being an impossibility in grain," as Keats once wrote to Reynolds, "for my ink to stain otherwise "-from the vein of fun and freakishness to that of poetry and wisdom, with passages now of masterly intuition, and now of wandering and uncertain, almost always beautiful, speculative fancy, interspersed with expressions of the most generous spirit of family affection, or the most searching and unaffected disclosures of self-knowledge. Poetry and Beauty were the twin powers his soul had ever worshipped; but his devotion to poetry seemed thus far to promise him no reward either in fame or bread, while beauty had betrayed her servant, and become to him a scorching instead of a sustaining power, since his love for the beautiful in general had turned into a craving passion for the beauty of a particular girl. As his flesh began to faint in the service of these two, his soul turned often with a sense of comfort, at times even almost of ecstacy, towards the milder divinity of Death, whose image had never been unfamiliar to his thoughts:

"Verse, Fame, and Beauty are intense indeed,

But Death intenser-Death is Life's high meed."

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