Imatges de pÓgina
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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 genius, 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 very 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."1

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 long 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

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1 Houghton MSS.

2 "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."

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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 a success. 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 meanwhile enamoured of a mortal. The eighty-eight stanzas, which were all that Keats wrote of the poem, only carry us 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 husband. 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 pathetic 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 artifiIcial 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 re1 See Appendix, p. 226.

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