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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 five or six weeks the friends made up their minds to change their quarters, and went in the second week of August to Winchester. The old cathedral city, with its peaceful closes breathing antiquity, its clear-coursing streams and beautiful elm-shadowed meadow walks, and the nimble and pure air of its surrounding downs, exactly suited Keats, who quickly improved both in health and spirits. The days which he spent here, from the middle of August to the middle of October, were the last good days of his life. Working with a steady intensity of application, he managed to steel himself for the time being against the importunity of his passion, although never without a certain feverishness in the effort.
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 this last he laboured alone, without accepting help from Brown. Early in September Brown left Winchester to go on a visit to Bedhampton. Immediately afterwards a letter from America compelled Keats to go to town and arrange with Mr. Abbey for the despatch of fresh remittances to his brother George. He dared not, to use his own words,“ venture into the fire” by going to see his mistress at Hampstead, but staid apparently with Mr. Taylor in Fleet Street, and was back on the fourth day at Winchester, where he spent the following ten days or fortnight in solitude. During this interval he took up Hyperion again, but made up bis mind to go no farther with it, having got to feel its style and method too Miltonic and artificial. Lamia he had finished, and his chief present occupation was in revising the Eve of St. Agnes, studying Italian in the pages of Ariosto, and writing up one of his long and full journal-letters to brother and sister George. The season was fine, and the beauty of the walks and the weather entering into his spirit, prompted also in these days the last, and one cer. tainly of the happiest of his odes, that To Autumn. To the fragment of St. Mark's Eve, begun or planned, as we have seen, the January before, he now added lines inspired at once by the spirit of city quietude, which his letters show to have affected him deeply here at Winchester, and by the literary example of Chatterton, for whom his old admiration had of late returned in full force.
The wholesome brightness of the early autumn continuing to sustain and soothe him, Keats made in these days a vigorous effort to rally bis moral powers, to banish overpassionate and morbid feelings, and to put himself on a right footing with the world. The letter to America already mentioned, and others written at the same time to Reynolds, Taylor, Dilke, Brown, and Haydon, are full of evidences of this spirit. The ill success of his brother in his American speculations shall serve, he is determined, as a spur to his own exertions; and now that real troubles are upon them, he will show that he can bear them better than those of imagination. The imaginary nail a man down for a sufferer, as on a cross; the real spur
up agent. He has been passing his time between reading, writing, and fretting; the last he now intends to give up, and stick to the other two. He does not consider he has any just cause of complaint against the world; he has done nothing as yet except for the amusement of a few people predisposed for sentiment, and is convinced that anything really fine will make its way. “What reviewers can put a hindrance to must be a nothing—or mediocre, which is worse.” With reference to his own plans for the
into an pay me.
future, he is determined to trust no longer to mere hopes of ultimate success, whether from plays or poems, but 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. “I will write, on the liberal side of the question, for whoever will
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
I will." These words are froin a letter written to Brown on the 22d of September; and further on in the same letter we find evidence of the honourable spirit of independence and unselfishness towards his friends which went together in Keats, as it too rarely does, with an affectionate willingness to accept their services at a pinch. He had been living since May on a loan from Brown and an advance from Taylor, and was uneasy at putting the former to a sacrifice. The subject, he says, is often in his mind, “and the end of my speculations is always an anxiety for your happiness. This anxiety will not be one of the least incitements to the plan I propose pursuing. I had got into a habit of mind of looking towards you as a help in all difficulties. You will see it is 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 his company, and doubtful of his power to live the life he proposed, respected their motives too much to contend against them. It was accordingly settled that the two friends should part, Brown returning to his own house at Hampstead, while Keats went to live by himself in London, and look out for employment on the press.
Isabella.—Hyperion.—The Eve of St. Agnes.— The Eve of St. Mark.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci.—Lamia.—The Odes.—The Plays.
DURING the twenty months ending with his return from Winchester, as last narrated, Keats had been able, even while health and peace of mind and heart deserted him, to produce in quick succession the series of poems which give us the true measure of his powers. In the sketches and epistles of his first volume we have seen him beginning, timidly and with no clearness of aim, to make trial of his poetical resources. A year afterwards he had leapt, to use his own words, headlong into the sea, and boldly tried his strength on the composition of a long mythological romance half romance, half parable of that passion for universal beauty of which he felt in his own bosom the restless and compulsive workings. In the execution he had done injustice to the power of poetry that was in him by letting both the exuberance of fancy and invention, and the caprice of rhyme, run away with him, and by substituting for the worn-out verbal currency of the last century a semi-Elizabethan coinage of his own, less accept
a able by habit to the literary sense, and often of not a whit greater real poetic value. The experiment was rash, but when he next wrote, it became manifest that it had not been made in vain. After Endymion his work threw off, not indeed entirely its faults, but all its weakness and in
effectiveness, and shone for the first time with a full "effluence” (the phrase is Landor’s) “ of power and light."
His next poem of importance was Isabella, planned and begun, as we saw, in February, 1818, and finished in the course of the next two months at Teignmouth. The subject is taken from the well-known chapter of Boccaccio which tells of the love borne by a damsel of Messina for a youth in the employ of her merchant - brothers, with its tragic close and pathetic sequel.' Keats for some reason transfers the scene of the story from Messina to Florence. Nothing can be less sentimental than Boccaccio's temper, nothing more direct and free from superfluity than his style. Kcats, invoking him, asks pardon for his own work as what it truly is—“An echo of thee in the North-wind sung.” Not only does the English poet set the southern story in a framework of northern landscape, telling us of the Arno, for instance, how its stream
‘Gurgles through straitened banks, and still doth fan
Itself with dancing bulrush, and the bream
he further adorns and amplifies it in a northern manner, enriching it with tones of sentiment and colours of romance, and brooding over every image of beauty or passion as he calls it up. These things he does—but no longer inordinately, as heretofore. His powers of imagination and of
1 See Appendix, p. 224.
? Decamcrone, Giorn., iv. nov. 5. A very different metrical treatment of the same subject was attempted and published, almost simultaneously with that of Keats, by Barry Cornwall in his Sicilian Story (1820). Of the metrical tales from Boccaccio which Reynolds had agreed to write concurrently with Keats (see above, p. 85), two were finished and published by him after Keats's death in the volume called A Garden of Florence (1821).