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the influence of the facetious Brown, who was a great student of Pulci and Boiardo, partly that of his own recent Italian studies, and partly the dazzling example of Byron's success, that now induced Keats to make an attempt in the same dual strain. Having already employed the measure most fit for such an attempt, the ottava rima of the Italians, in his serious poem of Isabella, he now, by what seems an odd technical perversity, adopted for his comic poem the grave Spenserian stanza, with its sustained and involved rhymes and its long-drawn close. Working thus in a vein not truly his own, and hampered moreover by his choice of metre, Keats nevertheless manages his transitions from grave to gay with a light hand, and the movement of the Cap and Bells has much of his characteristic suppleness and grace. In other respects the poem is not
The story, which appears to have been one of his own and Brown's invention, turned on the perverse loves of a fairy emperor and a fairy princess of the East. The two are unwillingly betrothed, each being meanwbile enamoured of a mortal. The eighty-eight stanzas, which were all that Keats wrote of the poem, only carry is as far as the flight of the emperor Elfinan for England, which takes place at the moment when his affianced bride alights from her aerial journey to his capital. Into the Elfinan part of the story Keats makes it clear that he meant somehow to weave in the same tale which had been in his mind when he began the fragment of St. Mark's Eve at the beginning of the year—the tale of an English Bertha living in a minster city, and beguiled in some way through the reading of a magic book. With this and other purely fanciful elements of the story are mixed up
satirical allusions to the events of the day. It was in this year, 1819, that the quarrels between the Prince Regent and his wife were drawing to a head; the public mind was full of the subject, and the general sympathy was vehemently aroused on the side of the scandalous lady in opposition to her thrice scandalous busband. The references to these royal quarrels and intrigues in the Cap and Bells are general rather than particular, although here and there individual names and characters are glanced at, as when “Esquire Biancopany” stands manifestly, as Mr. Forman has pointed out, for Whitbread. But the social and personal satire of the piece is in truth aimless and weak enough. As Keats had not the heart, so neither had he the worldly experience, for this kind of work; and beside the blaze of the Byronic wit and devilry his raillery seems but child's play. Where the fun is of the purely fanciful and fairy kind, he shows abundance of adroitness and invention, and in passages not humourous is sometimes really himself, his imagination becoming vivid and alert, and his style taking on its own happy light and colour, but seldom for more than a stanza or half-stanza at a time.
Besides his morning task in Brown's company on the Cap and Bells, Keats had other work on hand during this November and December. “In the evenings,” writes Brown, “at his own desire, he occupied a separate apartment, and was deeply engaged in re-modelling the fragment of Hyperion into the form of a Vision.” The result of this attempt, which has been preserved, is of a singular and patlietic interest in Keats's history. We have seen how, in the previous August, he had grown discontented with the style and diction of Hyperion, as being too artificial and Miltonic. Now, in the decline of his powers, he took the poem up again,' and began to re-write and greatly amplify it; partly, it would seem, through a mere re
i See Appendix, p. 226.
lapse into his old fault of overloading, partly through a desire to give expression to thoughts and feelings which were pressing on his mind. His new plan was to relate the fall of the Titans, not, as before, in direct narrative, but in the form of a vision revealed and interpreted to him by a goddess of the fallen race. The reader remembers how he had broken off his work on Hyperion at the point where Mnemosyne is enkindling the brain of Apollo with the inspiration of her ancient wisdom. Following a clue which he had found in a Latin book of mythology he had lately bought,' he now identifies this Greek Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, with the Roman Moneta, 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 delicious fruits, having eaten of which he sinks into a slumber, and awakes to find himself on the floor of a huge primeval temple. Presently a voice, the voice of Moneta, whose form he cannot yet see for the fumes of incense, summons him to climb the steps leading to an image beside which she is offering sacrifice. Obeying her with difficulty, he questions her concerning the mysteries of the place, and learns from her, among other knowledge, that he is standing in the temple of Saturn. Then she withdraws the veils from her face, at sight of which he feels an irresistible desire to learn her thoughts ; and thereupon finds himself conveyed in a trance by her side to the ancient scene of Saturn's overthrow. “Deep in the shady sadness of a vale," etc.—from this point Keats begin to weave into the new tissue of his Vision the text cf the original Hyperion, with alterations which are in almost all cases for the worse. Neither does the new portion of his work well match the old. Side by side with impressive passages, it contains others where both rhythm and diction flag, and in comparison depends for its beauty far more on single lines and passages, and less on sustained effects. Keats has indeed imagined nothing richer or purer than the feast of fruits at the opening of the Vision; and of supernatural presences he has perhaps conjured up none of such melancholy beauty and awe as that of the priestess when she removes her veils. But the especial interest of the poem lies in the light which it throws on the inward distresses of his mind, and on the conception he had by this time come to entertain of the poet's character and lot. When Moneta bids him mount the steps to her side, she warns him that if he fails to do so he is bound to perish utterly where he stands. In fact, be all but dies before he reaches the stair, but reviving, ascends and learns from her the meaning of the ordeal :
1 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.
“None can usurp this height,” returned that shade,
Labour for mortal good? I sure should see
And suffer'd in these temples." Tracing the process of Keats's thought through this somewhat obscure imagery—the poet, he means, is one who to indulge in dreams withdraws himself from the wholesome activities of ordinary men. At first he is lulled to sleep by the sweets of poetry (the fruits of the garden); awakening, he finds himself on the floor of a solemn temple, with Mnemosyne, the mother and inspirer of
song, enthroned all but inaccessibly above him. If he is a trifler, indifferent to the troubles of his fellow men, he is condemned to perish swiftly and be forgotten; he is suffered to approach the goddess, to commune with her and catch
1 Mrs. Owen was the first of Keats's critics to call attention to this passage, without, however, understanding the special significance it derives from the date of its composition.