Imatges de pàgina
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writes Keats. "By heavens, I'd coin my very soul, and drop my blood for drachmas.' These things are, and he who feels how incompetent the most skyey knight-errantry is to heal this bruised fairness, is like a sensitive leaf on the hot hand of thought." And again, “Were it in my choice, I would reject a Petrarchal coronation—on account of my dying day, and because women have cancers. I should not by rights speak in this tone to you, for it is an incendiary spirit that would do so."


Not the general tribulations of the race only, but particular private anxieties, were pressing in these days on Keats's thoughts. The shadow of illness, though it had hitherto scarcely touched himself, hung menacingly not only over his brother but his best friends. He speaks of it in a tone of courage and gayety which his real apprehensions, we can feel, belie. Banish money"—he had written in Falstaff's vein, at starting for the Isle of Wight a year ago—" Banish sofas-Banish wine-Banish music; but right Jack Health, honest Jack Health, true Jack Health-Banish Health and Banish all the world." Writing now from Teignmouth to Reynolds, who was down during these weeks with rheumatic fever, he complains laughingly, but with an undercurrent of sad foreboding, how he can go nowhere but Sickness is of the company, and says his friends will have to cut that fellow, or he must cut them.

Nearer and more pressing than such apprehensions was the pain of a family break-up now imminent. George Keats had made up his mind to emigrate to America, and embark his capital, or as much of it as he could get possession of, in business there. Besides the wish to push his own fortunes, a main motive of this resolve on George's part was the desire to be in a position as quickly as possi

ble to help, or, if need be, support his poet-brother. He persuaded the girl to whom he had long been attached, Miss Wylie, to share his fortunes, and it was settled that they were to be married and sail early in the summer. Keats came up from Teignmouth in May to see the last of his brother, and he and Tom settled again in their old lodgings in Well Walk. He had a warm affection and regard for his new sister-in-law, and was in so far delighted for George's sake. But at the same time he felt life and its prospects overcast. He writes to Bailey, after his outburst about the sufferings of women, that he is never alone now without rejoicing that there is such a thing as death -without placing his ultimate in the glory of dying for a great human purpose. And after recounting his causes of depression he recovers himself, and concludes: "Life must be undergone; and I certainly derive some consolation from the thought of writing one or two more poems before it ceases."

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With reference to his poem then just appearing, and the year's work it represented, Keats was under no illusions whatever. From an early period in its composition he had fully realised its imperfections, and had written: "My ideas of it are very low, and I would write the subject thoroughly again but I am tired of it, and think the time would be better spent in writing a new romance, which I have in my eye for next summer. Rome was not built in a day, and all the good I expect from my employment this summer is the fruit of experience which I hope to gather in my next poem." The habit of close self-observation and self-criticism is in most natures that possess it allied with vanity and egoism; but it was not so in Keats, who, without a shadow of affectation, judges himself, both in his strength and weakness, as the most clear-sighted and

disinterested friend might judge. He shows himself perfectly aware that in writing Endymion he has rather been working off a youthful ferment of the mind than producing a sound or satisfying work of poetry; and when the time comes to write a preface to the poem, after a first attempt lacking reticence and simplicity, and abandoned at the advice of Reynolds, he in the second quietly and beautifully says of his own work all that can justly be said in its dispraise. He warns the reader to expect "great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt rather than a deed accomplished;" and adds most unboastfully: "It is just that this youngster should die away: a sad thought for me, if I had not some hope that while it is dwindling I may be plotting, and fitting myself for verses fit to live."

The apprehensions expressed in these words have not been fulfilled; and Endymion, so far from having died away, lives to illustrate the maxim conveyed in its own now proverbial opening line. Immature as the poem truly is in touch and method, superabundant and confused as are the sweets which it offers to the mind, still it is a thing of far too much beauty, or at least of too many beauties, to perish. Every reader must take pleasure in some of its single passages and episodes, while to the student of the poetic art the work is interesting almost as much in its weakness as its strength.


IN the old Grecian world, the myth of Endymion and Selene was one deeply rooted in various shapes in the popular traditions both of Elis in the Peloponnese, and of the Ionian cities about the Latmian gulf in Caria. The central feature of the tale, as originally sung by Sappho, was the nightly descent of the goddess to kiss her lover where he lay spell-bound, by the grace of Zeus, in everlasting sleep and everlasting youth on Mount Latmos. The poem of Sappho is lost, and the story is not told at length in any of our extant classical writings, but only by way of allusion in some of the poets, as Theocritus, Apollonius Rhodius, and Ovid, and of the late prose-writers, as Lucian, Apollodorus, and Pausanias. Of such ancient sources Keats, of course, knew only what he found in his classical dictionaries. But references to the tale, as every one knows, form part of the stock repertory of classical allusion in modern literature; and several modern writers before Keats had attempted to handle the subject at length. In his own special range of Elizabethan reading he was probably acquainted with Lyly's court comedy of Endimion, in prose, which had been edited, as it happened, by his friend Dilke a few years before; but in it he would have found nothing to his purpose. On the other hand, I think he certainly took hints from the Man


in the Moon of Michael Drayton. In this piece Drayton takes hold of two post-classical notions concerning the Endymion myth, both in the first instance derived from Lucian-one, that which identifies its hero with the visible man in the moon" of popular fancy, the other, that which rationalises his story, and explains him away as a personification or mythical representative of early astronomy. These two distinct notions Drayton weaves together into a short tale in rhymed heroics, which he puts into the mouth of a shepherd at a feast of Pan. Like most of his writings, the Man in the Moon has strong gleams of poetry and fancy amidst much that is both puerile and pedantic. Critics, so far as I know, have overlooked Keats's debt to it; but even granting that he may well have got elsewhere, or invented for himself, the notion of introducing his story with a festival in honour of Pan, do not, at any rate, the following lines of Drayton contain evidently the hint for the wanderings on which Keats sends his hero (and for which antiquity affords no warrant) through earth, sea, and air?1

"Endymion now forsakes

All the delights that shepherds do prefer,
And sets his mind so generally on her
That, all neglected, to the groves and springs
He follows Phoebe, that him safely brings
(As their great queen) unto the nymphish bowers,
Where in clear rivers beautified with flowers
The silver Naides bathe them in the bracke.
Sometime with her the sea-horse he doth back
Among the blue Nereides; and when,
Weary of waters, goddess-like again

1 In the extract I have modernized Drayton's spelling and endeavoured to mend his punctuation: his grammatical constructions are past mending.

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