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“Is there so small a range In the present strength of manhood that the high Imagination cannot freely ily As she was wont of old ? prepare her steeds, Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all ? From the clear space of ether, to the small Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning Of Jove's large eyebrow, to the tender greening Of April meadows ? here her altar shone, E'en in this isle; and who could paragon The fervid choir that listed up a noise Of harmony, to where it aye will poise Its mighty self of convoluting sound, Huge as a planet, and like that roll round, Eternally around a dizzy void ? Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd With honours; nor had any other care Than to sing out and soothe their wavy hair.
Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism Nurtured by foppery and barbarism Made great Apollo blush for this his land. Men were thought wise who could not understand His glories; with a puling infant's force They sway'd about upon a rocking-horse, And thought it Pegasus. Ah, dismal-soul'd! The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd Its gathering waves—ye felt it not. The blue Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew Of summer night collected still to make The morning precious : Beauty was awake! Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead To things ye knew not of—were closely wed To musty laws lined out with wretched rule And compass vile; so that ye taught a school Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit, Their verses tallied. Easy was the task: A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race !
O ye whose charge
Both the strength and the weakness of this are typically characteristic of the time and of the man. is likely to remain for posterity the central expression of the spirit of literary emancipation then militant and about to triumph in England. The two great elder captains of revolution, Coleridge and Wordsworth, bave both expound
ed their cause, in prose, with much more maturity of thought and language; Coleridge in the luminous retrospect of the Biographia Literaria, Wordsworth in the anstere contentions of his famous prefaces. But neither has left any enunciation of theory having power to thrill the ear and haunt the memory like the rhymes of this young untrained recruit in the cause of poetic liberty and the return to nature. It is easy, indeed, to pick these verses of Keats to shreds, if we choose to fix a prosaic and rational attention on their faults. What is it, for instance, that imagination is asked to do? fly, or drive? Is it she, or her steeds, that are to paw up against the light and why paw? Deeds to be done upon clouds by pawing can hardly be other than strange. What sort of a verb is “I green, thou greenest ?” Delight with liberty is very well, but liberty in a poet onght not to include liberties with the parts of speech. Why should the hair of the muses require “ soothing ?"-if it were their tempers it would be more intelligible. And surely “foppery” belongs to civilization and not to“ barbarism;" and a standard - bearer may be decrepit, but not a standard, and a standard flimsy, but not a motto. “Boundly reverence:" what is boundly? And so on without end, if we choose to let the mind assume that attitude. Many minds not indifferent to literature were at that time, and some will at all times be, incapable of any other. Such must naturally turn to the work of the eighteenth-century school, the school of tact and urbane brilliancy and sedulous execution, and think the only “ blasphemy” was on the side of the youth who could call, or seem to call, the poet of Belinda and the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot fool and dolt. Byron, in his controversy with Bowles a year or two later, adopted this mode of attack effectively enough, his spleen against a contemporary finding, as usual, its most convenient weapon in an enthusiasm, partly real and partly affected, for the genius and the methods of Pope. But controversy apart, if we have in us a touch of instinct for the poetry of imagination and beauty, as distinct from that of taste and reason, however clearly we may see the weak points of a passage like this, however much we may wish that taste and reason had had more to do with it, yet we cannot but feel that Keats touches truly the root of the matter; we cannot but admire the elastic life and variety of his verse,
his fine spontaneous and effective turns of rhetoric, the ring and power of bis appeal to the elements, and the glow of his delight in the achievements and promise of the new age.
His volume, on its appearance, by no means made the impression which his friends had hoped for it. Hunt published a thoroughly judicious, as well as cordial, criticism in the Examiner, and several of the provincial papers noticed the book. Haydon wrote in his ranting vein: "I have read your Sleep and Poetry-it is a flash of lightning that will rouse men from their occupations, and keep them trembling for the crash of thunder that will follow." But people were in fact as far from being disturbed in their occupations as possible. The attention of the reading public was for the moinent almost entirely absorbed by men of talent or of genius who played with a more careless, and some of them with a more masterly, touch than Keats as yet, on commoner chords of the human spirit, as Moore, Scott, and Byron. In Keats's volume every one could see the faults, while the beauties appealed only to the poetically minded. It seems to have had a moderate sale at first, but after the first few weeks none at all. The poet, or at all events his brothers for him, were inclined, ing it
apparently with little reason, to blame their friends the publishers for the failure. On the 29th of April we find the brothers Ollier replying to a letter of George Keats in dudgeon: "We regret that your brother ever requested us to publish his book, or that our opinion of its talent should bave led us to acquiesce in undertaking it. We. are, however, much obliged to you for relieving us from the unpleasant necessity of declining any further connexion with it, which we must have done, as we think the curiosity is satisfied, and the sale has dropped.” One of their customers, they go on to say, had, a few days ago, hurt their feelings as men of business and of taste by call
no better than a take in." A fortnight before the date of this letter Keats had left London. Haydon had been urging on him, not injudiciously, the importance of seclusion and concentration of mind. We find him writing to Reynolds soon after the publication of his volume: “My brothers are anxious that I should go by myself into the country; they have always been extremely fond of me, and now that Haydon has pointed out how necessary it is that I should be alone to improve myself, they give up the temporary pleasure of living with me continually for a great good which I hope will follow: so I shall soon be out of town.” And on the 14th of April he in fact started for the Isle of Wight, intending to devote himself entirely to study, and to make immediately a fresh start upon Endymion.