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Escursion to Isle of Wight, Margate, and Canterbury.—Summer at
Hampstead.--- New friends : Dilke, Brown, Bailey.— With Bailey at Oxford.—Return: Old Friends at Odds.—Burford Bridge.—Winter at Hampstead.—Wordsworth, Lamb, Hazlitt.-Poetical Activity.—Spring at Teignmouth.-Studies and Anxieties.—Marriage and Emigration of George Keats. [April, 1817—May, 1818.]
As soon as Keats reached the Isle of Wight, on April 16, 1817, he went to see Shanklin and Carisbrooke, and after some hesitation between the two, decided on a lodging at the latter place. The next day he writes to Reynolds that he has spent the morning arranging the books and prints he had brought with him, adding to the latter one of Shakspeare which he had found in the passage, and which had particularly pleased him. He speaks with enthusiasm of the beauties of Shanklin, but in a postscript written the following day mentions that he has been nerv. ous from want of sleep, and much haunted by the passage in Lear, “Do you not hear the sea?”—adding without farther preface his own famous sea-sonnet beginning,
“It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
In the same postscript Keats continues :
“I find I cannot do without poetry-without eternal poetry; half the day will not do—the whole of it. I began with a little, but habit has made me a leviathan. I had become all in a tremble from not having written anything of late: the Sonnet overleaf did me good; I slept the better last night for it; this morning, however, I am nearly as bad again. ... I shall forth with begin my Endymion, which I hope I shall have got some way with before you come, when we will read our verses in a delightful place I have set my heart upon, near the Castle."
The Isle of Wight, however, Keats presently found, did not suit him, and Haydon's prescription of solitude proved too trying. He fell into a kind of fever of thought and sleeplessness which he thought it wisest to try and shake off by flight. Early in May we find him writing to Leigh Hunt from Margate, where he had already stayed the year before, and explaining the reasons of his change of abode. Later in the same letter, endeavouring to measure his own powers against the magnitude of the task to which he has committed himself, he falls into a vein like that which we have seen recurring once and again in his verses during the preceding year, the vein of awed self-questioning, and tragic presentiment uttered half in earnest and half in jest. The next day we find him writing a long and intimate, very characteristic letter to Haydon, signed “Your everlasting friend,” and showing the first signs of the growing influence which Haydon was beginning to exercise over him in antagonism to the influence of Leigh Hunt. Keats was quite shrewd enough to feel for himself, after a little while, the touches of vanity, fuss, and affectation, the lack of depth and strength, in the kind and charming nature of Hunt, and quite loyal enough to value his excellences none the less, and hold him in grateful and undiminished friendship. But Haydon, between whom and Hunt there was by degrees arising a coolness, must needs have Keats see things as he saw them. “I love you like my own brother,"
insists he: “beware, for God's sake, of the delusions and sophistications that are ripping up the talents and morality of our friend! He will go out of the world the victim of his own weakness and the dupe of his own self-delusions, with the contempt of his enemies and the sorrow of his friends, and the cause he undertook to support injured by his own neglect of character." There is a lugubrious irony in these words, when we remember how Haydon, a selfdeluder indeed, came to realize at last the very fate he here prophesies for another-just when Hunt, the harassing and often sordid, ever brightly borne, troubles of his earlier life left behind him, was passing, surrounded by affection, into the haven of a peaceful and bland old age. But for a time, under the pressure of Haydon's masterful exhortations, we find Keats inclining to take an exaggerated and slightly impatient view of the foibles of his earlier friend.
Among other interesting confessions to be found in Keats's letter to Haydon from Margate is that of the fancy-almost the sense- --which often haunted him of dependence on the tutelary genius of Shakspeare:
“I remember your saying that you had notions of a good genius presiding over you. I have lately had the same thought, for things which I do half at random are afterwards confirmed by my judgment in a dozen features of propriety. Is it too daring to fancy Shakspeare this presider ? When in the Isle of Wight I met with a Shakspeare in the passage of the house at which I lodged. It comes nearer to my idea of him than any I have seen ; I was but there a week, yet the old woman made me take it with me, though I went off in a hurry. Do you not think this ominous of good ?”
Next he lays his finger on the great secret flaw in his own nature, describing it in words which the after issue of his life will keep but too vividly and constantly before our minds: “Truth is, I have a horrid Morbidity of Temperament, which has shown itself at intervals ; it is, I have no doubt, the greatest Enemy and stumbling-block I have to fear; I may even say, it is likely to be the cause of my disappointment.” Was it that, in this seven-months' child of a consumptive mother, some unhealth of mind as well as body was congenital ?-or was it that, along with what seems his Celtic intensity of feeling and imagination, he had inherited a special share of that inward gloom which the reverses of their history have stamped, according to some, on the mind of the Celtic race? We cannot tell, but certain it is that along with the spirit of delight, ever creating and multiplying images of beauty and joy, there dwelt in Keats's bosom an almost equally busy and inventive spirit of self-torment.
The fit of dejection which led to the remark above quoted had its immediate cause in apprehensions of money difficulties conveyed to Keats in a letter from his brother George. The trust funds of which Mr. Abbey had the disposal for the benefit of the orphans, under the deed executed by Mrs. Jennings, amounted approximately to £8000,' of which the capital was divisible among them on their coming of age, and the interest was to be applied to their maintenance in the meantime. But the interest of John's share had been insufficient for his professional and other expenses during his term of medical study at Edmonton and London, and much of his capital had been anticipated to meet them : presumably in the form of loans raised on the security of his expectant share. Simi- . lar advances had also been for some time necessary to the invalid Tom for his support, and latterly—since he left the employment of Mr. Abbey—to George as well. It is
See Appendix, p. 219.
clear that the arrangements for obtaining these advances were made both wastefully and grudgingly. It is further plain that the brothers were very insufficiently informed of the state of their affairs. In the meantime John Keats was already beginning to discount his expectations from literature. Before or about the time of his rupture with the Olliers he had made the acquaintance of those excellent men, Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, who were shortly, as publishers of the London Magazine, to gather about them on terms of cordial friendship a group of contributors comprising more than half the choicest spirits of the day. With them, especially with Mr. Taylor, who was himself a student and writer of independent, somewhat eccentric ability and research, Keats's relations were excellent froin first to last, generous on their part, and affectionate and confidential on his. He had made arrangements with them, apparently before leaving London, for the eventual publication of Endymion, and from Margate we find him acknowledging a first payment received in advance. Now and again afterwards he turns to the same friends for help at a pinch, adding once, “I am sure you are confident of my responsibility, and of the sense of squareness that is always in me;" nor did they at any time belie his expectation.
From Margate, where he had already made good progress with Endymion, Keats went with his brother Tom to spend some time at Canterbury. Thence they moved, early in the summer, to lodgings kept by a Mr. and Mrs. Bentley in Well Walk, Hampstead, where the three brothers had decided to take up their abode together. Here he continued through the summer to work steadily at Endymion, being now well advanced with the second book; and some of his friends, as Haydon, Cowden Clarke, and Severn, remembered all their lives afterwards the occasions when