Imagini ale paginilor

perfectly true that what we call the world, in these affairs, is nothing more than a mere Brocken spectre, the projected shadow of ourselves; but as long as we do not know it, it is a very passable giant. We are not without experience of natures so purely intellectual that their bodies had no more concern in their mental doings and sufferings than a house has with the good or ill fortune of its occupant. But poets are not built on this plan, and especially poets like Keats, in whom the moral seems to have so perfectly interfused the physical man, that you might almost say he could feel sorrow with his hands, so truly did his body, like that of Donne's mistress, think and remember and forebode. The healthiest poet of whom our civilization has been capable says that when he beholds

6 desert a beggar born, And strength by limping sway disabled,

And art made tongue-tied by authority,” (alluding, plainly enough, to the Giffords of his day,)

" And simple truth miscalled simplicity,'' (as it was long afterward in Wordsworth's case,)

“ And Captive Good attending Captain Ill," that then even he, the poet to whom of all others life seems to have been dearest, as it was also the fullest of enjoyment, “ tired of all these," had nothing for it but to cry for “ restful Death.”

Keats, as we have said, accepted his ill fortune courageously. On the 9th of October, 1818, he writes to his publisher, Mr. Hessey, “I cannot but feel indebted to those gentlemen who have taken my part. As for the rest, I begin to get acquainted with my own strength and weakness. Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of his own works. My own domestic criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what · Blackwood' or the “Quarterly could inflict: and also, when I feel I am right, no external praise can give me such a glow as my own solitary reperception and ratification of what is fine. J. S. is perfectly right in regard to the slipshod Endymion. That it is so is no fault of mine. No! though it may sound a little paradoxical, it is as good as I had power to make it by myself. Had I been nervous 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 Geniųs of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man. It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. That which is creative must create itself. In · Endymion' I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest:”

This was undoubtedly true, and it was naturally the side which a large-minded person would display to a friend. This is what he thought; but whether it was what he felt, we think doubtful. We look upon it rather as one of the phenomena of that multanimous nature of the poet, which makes him for the moment that which he has an intellectual perception of. Elsewhere he says something which seems to hint at the true state of the case. “I must think that difficulties nerve the spirit of a man: they make our prime objects a refuge as well as a passion.” One cannot help contrasting Keats with Wordsworth ; the one altogether poet, the other essentially a Wordsworth with the poetic faculty added ; the one shifting from form to form, and from style to style, and pouring his hot throbbing life into every mould ; the other remaining always the individual, producing works, and not so much living in his poems as memorially recording his life in them. When Wordsworth alludes to the foolish criticisms on his writings, he speaks serenely and generously of Wordsworth the poet, as if he were an unbiassed third person, who takes up

* Milnes's Life and Letters of Keats, pp. 145-6.

the argument merely in the interest of literature. He towers into a bald egotism which is quite above and beyond selfishness. Poesy was his employment; it was Keats's very existence; and he felt the rough treatment of his verses as if it had been the wounding of a limb. To Wordsworth, composing was a healthy exercise; his slow pulse and unimpressible nature gave him assurance of a life so long that he could wait ; and when we read his poems we should never suspect the existence in him of any sense but that of observation, as if Wordsworth the poet were only a great sleepless eye, accompanied by Mr. Wordsworth, the distributer of stamps, as a reverential scribe and Baruch. But every one of Keats's poems was a sacrifice of vitality; a virtue went away from him into every one of them; even yet, as we turn the leaves, they seem to warm and thrill our fingers with the flush of his fine senses, and the flutter of his electrical nerves, and we do not wonder he felt that what he did was to be done swiftly.

In the mean time, his younger brother languished and died; his elder seems to have been in some way unfortunate, and had gone to America, and Keats himself showed symptoms of the hereditary disease which caused his death at last. It is in October, 1818, that we find the first allusions to a passion, which was, ere long, to consume him. It is plain enough beforehand, that those were not moral or mental graces that should attract a man like Keats. His intellect was satisfied and absorbed by his art, his books, and his friends. He could have companionship and appreciation from men ; what he craved of woman was only repose. That luxurious nature, which would have tossed uneasily on a crumpled rose-leaf, must have something softer to rest upon than intellect, something less ethereal than culture. It was his body that needed to have its equilibrium restored, the waste of his nervous energy that must be repaired by deep draughts of the overflowing life and drowsy tropical force of an abundant and healthily-poised womanhood. Writing to his sister-in-law, he says of this nameless person :

“ She is not a Cleopatra, þut is, at least, a Charmian ; she has a rich eastern look ; she has fine eyes, and fine manners. When she comes into a room, she makes the same impression as the beauty of a leopardess. She is too fine and too conscious of herself to repulse any man who may address her.

address her. From habit, she thinks that nothing, particular. I always find myself at ease with such a woman ; the picture before me always gives me a life and animation which I cannot possibly feel with anything inferior. I am at such times too much occupied in admiring, to be awkward, or in a tremble. I forget myself entirely, because I live in her. You will by this time think I am in love with her, so, before I go any farther, I will tell you that I am not. She kept me awake one night, as a tune of Mozart's might do. I speak of the thing as a pastime and an amusement, than which I can feel none deeper than a conversation

[ocr errors]

with an inperial woman, the very yes and no of whose life is to me a banquet.

I like her and her like, because one has no sensation ; what we both are, is taken for granted. . She walks across a room in such a manner that: a man is drawn toward her with magnetic power.

I believe, though, she has faults, the same as a Cleopatra or a Charmian might have had. Yet she is a fine thing, speaking in a worldly way; for there are two distinct tempers of mind in which we judge of things: the worldly, theatrical, and pantomimical; and the unearthly, spiritual, and ethereal

. In the former, Bonaparte, Lord Byron, and this Charmian hold the first place in our minds ; in the latter, John Howard, Bishop Hooker, rocking his child's cradle, and you, my dear sister, are the conquering feelings.

As a man of the world, I love the rich talk of a Charmian; as an eternal being, I love the thought of you. I should like her to ruin me, and I should like you to save me."

It is pleasant always to see Love hiding his head with such pains, while his whole body is so clearly visible, as in this extract. This lady, it seems, is not a Cleopatra, only a Charmian; but presently we find that she is imperial. He does not love her, but he would just like to be ruined by her, nothing more. This glimpse of her, with her leopardess beauty, crossing the room and drawing men after her magnetically, is all we have. She seems to have been still living in 1848, and, as Mr. Milnes tells us, kept the memory of the poet sacred. “She is an East Indian,” Keats says, - and ought to be her grandfather's heir." Her name we do not


Between this time and the spring of 1820, he seems to have worked assiduously. Of course, worldly success was of more importance than ever.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »