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and the fifth act, probably in consequence, shows a great improvement. There is a real dramatic effect, of the violent kind affected by the old English drama, in the disclosure of the body of Auranthe, dead indeed, at the moment when Ludolph in his madness vainly imagines himself to have slain her; and some of the speeches in which his frenzy breaks forth remind us strikingly of Marlowe, not only by their pomp of poetry and allusion, but by the tumult of the soul and senses expressed in them. Of the second historical play, King Stephen, which Keats began by himself at Winchester, too little was written to afford matter for a safe judgment. The few scenes he finished are not only marked by his characteristic splendour and felicity of phrase, they are full of a spirit of heady action and the stir of battle; qualities which he had not shown in any previous work, and for which we might have doubted his capacity had not this fragment been preserved.
But in the mingling of his soul's and body's destinies it had been determined that neither this nor any other of his powers should be suffered to ripen farther upon earth.
Return to Wentworth Place.—Autumn occupations : The Cap and
Bells ; Recast of Hyperion. — Growing despondency. – Visit of George Keats to England.—Attack of illness in February.—Rally in the Spring.–Summer in Kentish Town.-Publication of the Lamia volume.—Relapse.—Ordered South.-Voyage to Italy, Naples, Rome.-Last Days and Death. [October, 1819 – February, 1821.]
We left Keats at Winchester, with Otho, Lamia, and the Ode to Autumn just written, and with his mind set on trying to face life sanely, and take up arms like other men against bis troubles, instead of letting imagination magnify and passion exasperate them as heretofore. At his request Dilke took for him a lodging in his own neighbourhood in Westminster (25 College Street), and here Keats came
, on the 8th of October to take up his quarters. But alas ! his blood proved traitor to his will, and the plan of life and literary work in London broke down at once on trial. The gain of health and composure which he thought he had made at Winchester proved illusory, or at least could only be maintained at a distance from the great perturbing cause. Two days after his return he went to Hampstead—“into the fire ”—and in a moment the flames had seized him more fiercely than ever. It was the first time he had seen his mistress for four months. 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 must send her a line, he writes to Fanny Brawne two days later,“ 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. ... 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.” A three days' visit at her mother's house, followed by another of a day or two at the Dilkes', ended in his giving up all resistance to the spell. Within ten days, apparently, of his return from Winchester, he had settled again at Hampstead under Brown's roof, next door to the home of his joy and torment. He writes with a true foreboding : “I shall be able to do nothing. I should like to cast the die for Love or Death—I have no patience with anything else.”
It was for death that the die was cast, and from the date of his return to Wentworth Place, in October, 1819, begins the melancholy closing chapter of Keats's history. Of the triple flame which was burning away his life, the flame of genins, of passion, and of disease, while the last kept smouldering in secret, the second burnt every day more fiercely, and the first began from this time forth to sink. Not that he was idle during the ensuing season of autumn and early winter, but the work he did was marked both by infirmity of purpose and failure of power. For the present he determined not to publish Lamia, Isabella, and the other poems written since Endymion. He preferred to await the result of Brown's attempt to get Otho brought on the stage, thinking, no doubt justly, that a success in that field would help to win a candid hearing for his poetry. In the meantime the scoffs of the party critics had brought him so low in estimation that Brown in sending in the play thought it best to withhold his friend's name.
The great hope of the authors was that Kean would see an opportunity for himself in the part of Ludolph. In this they were not disappointed; the play was accepted, but Elliston, the manager, proposing to keep it back till the next season, or the next but one, Keats and Brown objected to the delay, and about Christmas transferred the offer of their MS. to Covent Garden, where Macready, under Harris's management, was at this time beginning to act the leading parts. It was after a while returned unopened, and with that the whole matter seems to have dropped.
In the meanwhile tragedy was still the goal towards which Keats bent his hopes. “One of my ambitions," he had written to Bailey from Winchester, “is to make as great a revolution in modern dramatic writing as Kean has done in acting.” And now, in a letter to Mr. Taylor of November 17th, he says that to write a few fine plays is still his greatest ambition, when he does feel ambitious, which is
seldom. The little dramatic skill he may as yet have, however badly it might show in a drama, would, he conceives, be sufficient for a poem; and what he wishes to do next is “to diffuse the colouring of St. Agnes's Eve throughout a poem in which character and sentiment would be the figures to such drapery." Two or three such poems would be, he thinks, the best gradus to the Parnassum altissimum of true dramatic writing. Meantime he is for the moment engaged on a task of a different nature.
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.” The piece to which Keats here alludes is evidently the satirical fairy poem of the Cap and Bells, on which we know him to have been at this time busy. Writing of the autumn days immediately following their return to Wentworth Place, Brown says:
“By chance our conversation turned on the idea of a comic faery poem in the Spenser stanza, and I was glad to encourage it. He had not composed many stanzas before he proceeded in it with spirit. It was to be published under the feigned authorship of “ Lucy Vaughan Lloyd," and to bear the title of the Cap and Bells, or, which he preferred, the Jealousies. This occupied his mornings pleasantly. He wrote it with the greatest facility; in one instance I remember having copied (for I copied as he wrote) as many as twelve stanzas before dinner."
Excellent friend as Brown was to Keats, he was not the most judicious adviser in matters of literature, and the attempt made in the Cap and Bells to mingle with the strain of fairy fancy a strain of worldly flippancy and satire was one essentially alien to Keats's nature. as health and spirits lasted, he was often full, as we have seen, of pleasantry and nonsense; but his wit was essentially amiable," and he was far too tender-hearted ever to be a satirist. Moreover, the spirit of poetry in him was too intense and serious to work hand-in-hand with the spirit of banter, as poetry and banter had gone handin-hand in some of the metrical romances of the Italian Renaissance, and again with unprecedented dexterity and brilliance in the early cantos of Don Juan. It was partly
1 Houghton MSS. 3 “He never spoke of any one,” says Severn (Houghton MSS.), but by saying something in their favour, and this always so agreeably and cleverly, imitating the manner to increase your favourable impression of the person he was speaking of.”