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liberty in a poet
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 austere 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, Delight with liberty is very well, but ought 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 his 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 moment 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,
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 have 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 calling it 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.
Excursion 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
Gluts twice ten thousand caverns."
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 forthwith 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,"