Imatges de pàgina

rarely fails in delicacy of musical and metrical ear, or in variety and elasticity of sentence structure. There is nothing in his treatment of the measure for which precedent may not be found in the work of almost every poet who employed it during the half-century that followed its brilliant revival for the purposes of narrative poetry by Marlowe. At most, he can only be said to make a rule of that which with the older poets was rather an exception; and to seek affinities for him among the tedious by-ways of provincial seventeenth-century verse seems quite superfluous.

As the best criticism on Keats's Endymion is in his own preface, so its best defence is in a letter he wrote six months after it was printed. "It is as good," he says,


as I had power to make it by myself." Hunt had warned him against the risks of a long poem, and Shelley against those of hasty publication. From much in his performance that was exuberant and crude the classical training and now ripening taste of Shelley might doubtless have saved him, had he been willing to listen. But he was determined that his poetry should at all times be the true spontaneous expression of his mind. "Had I been nervous," he goes on, "about its being a perfect piece, and with that view asked advice, and trembled over every page, it would not have been written; for it is not in my nature to fumble. I will write independently. I have written independently without judgment. I may write independently and with judgment hereafter. The genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a


It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself." How well Keats was able to turn the fruits of experience to the benefit of his art, how swift the genius of poetry in him was to work out, as he says, its own salvation, we shall see when we come to consider his next labours.


Northern Tour.-The Blackwood and Quarterly Reviews.-Death of Tom Keats.-Removal to Wentworth Place.-Fanny Brawne.-Excursion to Chichester.-Absorption in Love and Poetry.-Haydon and Money Difficulties.—Family Correspondence.—Darkening Prospects. Summer at Shanklin and Winchester.-Wise Resolutions.Return from Winchester. [June, 1818-October, 1819.]

WHILE Keats, in the spring of 1818, was still at Teignmouth, with Endymion on the eve of publication, he had been wavering between two different plans for the immediate future. One was to go for a summer's walking tour through Scotland with Charles Brown. "I have many reasons," he writes to Reynolds, "for going wonder-ways: to make my winter chair free from spleen; to enlarge my vision; to escape disquisitions on poetry, and Kingstoncriticism; to promote digestion and economize shoe-leather. I'll have leather buttons and belt, and if Brown hold his mind,' over the hills we go.' If my books will keep me to it, then will I take all Europe in turn, and see the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them." A fortnight later we find him inclining to give up this purpose under an over-mastering sense of the inadequacy of his own attainments, and of the necessity of acquiring knowledge, and ever more knowledge, to sustain the flight of poetry:

"I was proposing to travel over the North this summer. There is but one thing to prevent me. I know nothing-I have read nothing

-and I mean to follow Solomon's directions, 'Get learning-get understanding.' I find earlier days are gone by-I find that I can have no enjoyment in the world but continual drinking of knowledge. I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good to the world. Some do it with their society; some with their wit; some with their benevolence; some with a sort of power of conferring pleasure and good-humour on all they meet-and in a thousand ways, all dutiful to the command of great nature. There is but one way for me. The road lies through application, study, and thought. I will pursue it; and for that end, purpose retiring for some years. I have been hovering for some time between an exquisite sense of the luxurious and a love for philosophy: were I calculated for the former I should be glad; but as I am not, I shall turn all my soul to the latter."

After he had come back to Hampstead in May, however, Keats allowed himself to be persuaded, no doubt partly by considerations of health, and the recollection of his failure to stand the strain of solitary thought a year before, to resume his original intention. It was agreed between him and Brown that they should accompany George Keats and his bride as far as Liverpool, and then start on foot from Lancaster. They left London accordingly on Monday, June 22d.' The coach stopped for dinner the first day at Redbourn, near St. Albans, where Keats's friend of medical-student days, Mr. Stephens, was in practice. He came to shake hands with the travelling party at the poet's request, and many years afterwards wrote an account of the interview, the chief point of which is a description of Mrs. George Keats. "Rather short, not what might be strictly called handsome, but looked like a being whom any man of moderate sensibility might easily love. She had the imaginative-poetical cast. Somewhat singular and girlish in her attire. . . . There was something original about her, and John seemed to regard her as a be1 See Appendix, p. 223.


ing whom he delighted to honour, and introduced her with evident satisfaction." With no other woman or girl friend was Keats ever on such easy and cordial terms of intimacy as with this "Nymph of the downward smile. and side-long glance" of his early sonnet-"Sister George," as she had now become; and for that reason, and on account of the series of charming playful affectionate letters he wrote to her afterwards in America, the portrait above quoted, such as it is, seems worth preserving.

The farewells at Liverpool over, Keats and Brown went on by coach to Lancaster, and thence began their walk, Keats taking for his reading one book only, the little three-volume edition of Cary's Dante. "I cannot," writes Brown, "forget the joy, the rapture of my friend when he suddenly, and for the first time, became sensible to the full effect of mountain scenery. It was just before our descent to the village of Bowness, at a turn of the road, when the lake of Windermere at once came into view. ... All was enchantment to us both." Keats in his own letters says comparatively little about the scenery, and that quite simply and quietly, not at all with the descriptive enthusiasm of the modern picturesque tourist; nor indeed with so much of that quality as the sedate and fastidious Gray had shown in his itineraries fifty years before. The truth is that an intensely active, intuitive genius for nature like his needs not for its exercise the stimulus of the continued presence of beauty, but on a minimum of experience can summon up and multiply for itself spirit sunsets, and glories of dream and lake and mountain, richer and more varied than the mere receptive lover of scenery, eager to enjoy but impotent to create, can witness in a life-time of travel and pursuit. Moreover, whatever the effect on him 1 Houghton MSS.

of that first burst of Windermere, it is evident that as Keats proceeded northwards he found the scenery somewhat foreign to his taste. Besides the familiar home beauties of England, two ideals of landscape, classic and mediaval, haunted and allured his imagination almost equally: that of the sunny and fabled south, and that of the shadowed and adventurous north; and the Scottish border, with its bleak and moorish, rain-swept and cloud-empurpled hills, and its unhomely cold stone villages, struck him at first as answering to neither. "I know not how it is, the clouds, the sky, the houses, all seem anti-Grecian and anti-Charlemagnish."

A change, besides, was coming over Keats's thoughts and feelings whereby scenery altogether was beginning to interest him less, and his fellow-creatures more. In the acuteness of childish and boyish sensation, among the suburban fields or on sea-side holidays, he had unconsciously absorbed images of nature enough for his faculties to work on through a life-time of poetry; and now, in his second chamber of Maiden-thought, the appeal of nature yields in his mind to that of humanity. "Scenery is fine," he had already written from Devonshire in the spring, "but human nature is finer." In the Lake country, after climbing Skiddaw one morning early, and walking to Treby the same afternoon, where they watched with amusement the exercises in a country dancing-school: "There was as fine a row of boys and girls," says Keats, "as you ever saw; some beautiful faces, and one exquisite mouth. I never felt so near the glory of patriotism, the glory of making, by any means, a country happier. This is what I like better than scenery.' The same note recurs frequently in let

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ters of a later date.

From Lancaster the travellers walked first to Ambleside;

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