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credit to his sincerity in that he refuses to go into stock raptures on the subject, confessing his inability rightly to grasp or analyse the impressions he had received. By the spring of the following year his intimacy with Haydon was at its height, and we find the painter giving his young friend a standing invitation to his studio in Great Marlborough Street, declaring him dearer than a brother, and praying that their hearts may be buried together.
To complete the group of Keats's friends in these days, we have to think of two or three others known to him otherwise than through Hunt, and not belonging to the Hunt circle. Among these were the family and friends of a Miss Georgiana Wylie, to whom George Keats was attached. She was the daughter of a navy officer, with wit, sentiment, and an attractive irregular cast of beauty, and Keats on his own account had a great liking for her. On Valentine's day, 1816, we find him writing, for George to send her, the first draft of the lines beginning, "Hadst thou lived in days of old," afterwards amplified and published in his first volume.' Through the Wylies Keats became acquainted with a certain William Haslam, who was afterwards one of his own and his brothers' best friends, but whose character and person remain indistinct to us; and through Haslam with Joseph Severn, then a very young and struggling student of art. Severn was the son of an engraver, and to the despair of his father had determined to be himself a painter. He had a talent also for music, a strong love of literature, and doubtless something already of that social charm which Mr. Ruskin describes in him when they first met five-and-twenty years later at Rome. From the moment of their introduction Severn 1 See Appendix, p. 221.
See Praeterita, vol. ii., chap. 2.
found in Keats his very ideal of the poetical character realized, and attached himself to him with an admiring affection.
A still younger member of the Keats circle was Charles Wells, afterwards author of Stories after Nature, and of that singular and strongly imagined Biblical drama or "dramatic poem " of Joseph and his Brethren, which having fallen dead in its own day has been resuscitated by a group of poets and critics in ours. Wells had been a school companion of Tom Keats at Enfield, and was now living with his family in Featherstone buildings. He has been described by those who knew him as a sturdy, boisterous, blue-eyed and red-headed lad, distinguished in those days chiefly by an irrepressible spirit of fun and mischief. He was only about fifteen when he sent to John Keats the present of roses acknowledged in the sonnet beginning, As late I rambled in the happy fields." A year or two later Keats quarrelled with him for a practical joke played on Tom Keats without due consideration for his state of health; and the Stories after Nature, published in 1822, are said to have been written in order to show Keats "that he too could do something."
Thus by his third winter in London our obscurely born and half-schooled young medical student found himself fairly launched in a world of art, letters, and liberal aspirations, and living in familiar intimacy with some, and friendly acquaintance with others, of the brightest and most ardent spirits of the time. His youth, origin, and temperament alike saved him from anything but a healthy relation of equality with his younger, and deference towards his elder, companions. But the power and the charm of genius were already visibly upon him. Portraits both verbal and other exist in abundance, enabling us to realize
his presence and the impression which he made. "The character and expression of his features," it is said, “would arrest even the casual passenger in the street." A small, handsome, ardent-looking youth-the stature little over five feet; the figure compact and well-turned, with the neck thrust eagerly forward, carrying a strong and shapely head set off by thickly clustering gold-brown hair; the features powerful, finished, and mobile; the mouth rich and wide, with an expression at once combative and sensitive in the extreme; the forehead not high, but broad and strong; the eyebrows nobly arched, and eyes hazel-brown, liquid-flashing, visibly inspired-"an eye that had an inward look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions." "Keats was the only man I ever met who seemed and looked conscious of a high calling, except Wordsworth." These words are Haydon's, and to the same effect Leigh Hunt: "The eyes mellow and glowing, large, dark, and sensitive. At the recital of a noble action or a beautiful thought they would suffuse with tears, and his mouth trembled." It is noticeable that his friends, whenever they begin to describe his looks, go off in this way to tell of the feelings and the soul that shone through them. To return to Haydon: "He was in his glory in the fields. The humming of a bee, the sight of a flower, the glitter of the sun, seemed to make his nature tremble; then his eyes flashed, his cheek glowed, and his mouth quivered." In like manner George Keats: "John's eyes moistened and his lip quivered at the relation of any tale of generosity or benevolence or noble daring, or at sights of loveliness or distress;" and a shrewd and honoured survivor of those days," herself of many poets the frequent theme and valued friend "-need I name Mrs. Procter ?has recorded the impression the same eyes have left upon
her, as those of one who had been looking on some glorious sight.'
In regard to his social qualities, Keats is said, and owns himself, to have been not always perfectly well-conditioned or at his ease in the company of women, but in that of men all accounts agree that he was pleasantness itself: quiet and abstracted, or brilliant and voluble, by turns, according to his mood and company, but thoroughly amible and unaffected. If the conversation did not interest him he was apt to draw apart, and sit by himself in the window, peering into vacancy, so that the window - seat came to be recognized as his place. His voice was rich and low, and when he joined in discussion it was usually with an eager but gentle animation, while his occasional bursts of fiery indignation at wrong or meanness bore no undue air of assumption, and failed not to command respect. His powers of mimicry and dramatic recital are said to have been great, and never used unkindly.
Thus stamped by nature, and moving in such a circle as we have described, Keats found among those with whom he lived nothing to check, but rather everything to foster, his hourly growing, still diffident and trembling, passion for the poetic life. His guardian, as we have said, of course was adverse; but his brothers, including George, the practical and sensible one of the family, were warmly with him, as his allusions and addresses to them both in prose and verse, and their own many transcripts from his compositions, show. In August, 1816, we find him addressing from Margate a sonnet and a poetical Epistle in terms of the utmost affection and confidence to George. About the same time he gave up his lodgings in St.
1 See Appendix, p. 221.
Thomas's Street to go and live with his brothers in the Poultry; and in November he composes another sonnet on their fraternal fire-side occupations. Poetry and the love of poetry were at this period in the air. It was a time when even people of business and people of fashion read a time of literary excitement, expectancy, and discussion, such as England has not known since. In such an atmosphere Keats soon found himself induced to try his fortune and his powers with the rest. The encouragement of his friends was indeed only too ready and enthusjastic. It was Leigh Hunt who first brought him before the world in print, publishing without comment, in the Examiner for the 5th of May, 1816, his sonnet beginning, "O Solitude! if I with thee must dwell," and on the 1st of December in the same year the sonnet on Chapman's Homer. This Hunt accompanied by some prefatory remarks on the poetical promise of its author, associating with his name those of Shelley and Reynolds. It was by the praise of Hunt in this paper, says Mr. Stephens, that Keats's fate was sealed. But already the still more ardent encouragement of Haydon, if more was wanted, had come to add fuel to the fire. In the Marlborough Street studio, in the Hampstead cottage, in the City lodgings of the three brothers, and in the convivial gatherings of their friends, it was determined that John Keats should put forth a volume of his poems. A sympathetic firm of publishers was found in the Olliers. The volume was printed, and the last proofsheets were brought one evening to the author amid a jovial company, with the intimation that if a dedication was to be added the copy must be furnished at once. Keats, going to one side, quickly produced the sonnet To Leigh Hunt, Esq., with its excellent opening and its weak conclusion: