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ordinary interest in the public discussions of his time; and the political savagery with which his writings were treated was not only a reproach to the æsthetic sagacity of some distinguished men-of-letters, but a most unjust assumption of facts.
The range of his acquaintance gradually widened. He wrote to Mr. Clarke :-" -"My dainty Davie, I will be as punctual as the bee to the clover; very glad I am at the thoughts of seeing this glorious Haydon and all his creation. I pray thee let me know should you go to Ollier's, and where he resides." Mr. Ollier was a young publisher, himself a writer of verse, and the result of this acquaintance was the appearance of Keats's first volume, in the spring of 1817. This contained some juvenile pieces, here reproduced as illustrative of his mental history-three Epistles written with an easy gaiety, very rare in the early efforts even of remarkable poets-two pieces imaginatively descriptive of suburban scenery and of the residence of Mr. Hunt, in the Vale of Health at Hampstead-and some Sonnets of unequal merit, the first having been written when Mr. Hunt left prison, and the best of them indicating a higher power of thought and expression than anything else in the book.
The effect of the publication was to confirm his friends in their estimate of his poetical powers, but it extended little, if at all, further, and the personal quarrel that resulted is very explicable. Keats may have thought, as so often occurs to a young writer, that Mr. Ollier might have served him better, and Mr. Ollier may have felt himself disappointed in the prodigy he was heralding into the world of letters.
The connection with Haydon, at that time, as
indeed always, battling for food and fame, was productive of much delight both to artist and poet. The former was occupied with the large work of the “Entry of Christ into Jerusalem,” into which he introduced the portrait of Keats, with that of Wordsworth and other literary celebrities, and which still remains to vindicate his claim to a high rank among historical painters.' He found in Keats a passionate admirer, not only of his ideas, but of his execution; for to him Haydon was nothing less than his introducer into the living presence of the old gods, and the realizer in outward form of his most cherished imaginations. The fine sonnets on the Elgin Marbles, which were first published in the " Examiner," attest the vivacity of this impression. Thus, although the original conception of " Endymion” had long been germinating in his fancy, as the well-known lines in "Sleep and Poetry " indicate, the laborious construction and concentration of energy required in a long poem owe their fulfilment in a great degree, not only to the associations which the grand classic models intensified in his mind, but to the high counsels of moral courage and intellectual determination which Haydon urged upon him with all the force of friendship, while Hunt threw his influence into the other scale, and counselled him not to attempt so great a
Keats always denied that his devotion to poetry was the cause of his abandonment of his profession. His sole motive, he asserted, was his inability to perform an operation with security and comfort, from his over-wrought apprehension of the possible chance of inflicting serious injury.
This picture is now in America
His last operation was the opening of a temporal artery, which he performed with complete success, but his dexterity, he said, seemed to him a miracle, and he never took up an instrument again. Had anæsthetics been then in common use, he would probably have either not felt, or have entirely subdued, these susceptibilities. In May, 1817, he wrote, he "had forgotten all surgery," and was busy with the Commencement of Endymion," at Margate, having fairly run away from the picturesque solitude of the Isle of Wight, which at once charmed and depressed him. He had found a generous publisher in Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, who advanced him a sufficient sum to continue his work with ease of mind, and he had made the acquaintance, through Mr. Reynolds (his earliest literary associate, after Mr. Clarke), of Mr. Baily, at that time resident at Oxford and reading for the Church, of which he became a distinguished member as Archdeacon of Colombo in Ceylon. This gentleman expresses himself not only to have formed a high notion of Keats's poetical capacity from his first volume, but to have been charmed with the simplicity of his character and drawn to him by his winning and affectionate manner. "There was in the character of his countenance the femineity which Coleridge thought to be the mental constitution of true genius; his hair was beautiful, and if you placed your hand upon his head the curls fell round it like a rich plumage. I do not particularly remember the thickness of the upper lip so generally described, but the mouth was too wide, and out of harmony with the rest of his face, which had a peculiar sweetness of expression, with a character of mature thought and an almost
painful sense of suffering." He returned with Mr. Baily to Oxford, and thus was enabled, in the quiet of the academic groves, to advance rapidly with his poem, composing about fifty lines a day with as much regularity and ease as if he were writing letters. The two friends visited Stratfordon-Avon, where he expressed himself as more satisfied with the rough monument of Shakespeare than with any other representation of him that he had seen. He returned to Hampstead at the end of September, and must have worked vigorously at his poem, for the draft was completed, as the still existing manuscript, written fairly in a book, records, on the 28th of November. But the fair copy must have been made with great care, for the first book was not in Mr. Taylor's hands till the middle of January. The publisher seemed more than satisfied with it, and proposed to publish it in quarto, as was the habit of the time, if Haydon would draw a frontispiece. The artist did not refuse, but said he should propose to paint a finished picture from the poem, and suggested that he should make a finished chalksketch of Keats's head to prefix to the book. He had already taken the outlines, which are given in the second volume of his Correspondence, but the volume appeared in octavo without picture or portrait.
The judgment of his friends was not equally favourable; Leigh Hunt thought the first book unnatural, and Shelley (with whom, singularly enough, he never seems to have had much personal sympathy, little conscious how their names would be linked together in after-days) appeared disposed to criticise rather than admire. criticism troubled him little in the cheerful, hopeful, state of mind he then enjoyed. His health
could not have been bad, for he signalized himself by giving a drubbing to a butcher who was maltreating a little boy; and yet it must have been about that time that Coleridge, in his “Table Talk," mentions meeting him, "a loose, slack, not well-dressed youth," in a lane near Highgate, and having said to Hunt, "There is death in that hand." In October, 1817, indeed, he had written that a little mercury had improved his health, but that he felt he should never be secure in robustness;" and the month after he said that he did not think his brother's illness had anything to do with his own.
It is very probable that the occasional excesses of the social life he then led may have done an injury which a strong man would not have felt, but certainly not to the extent assumed in Haydon's exaggerated letter to Miss Mitford, on hearing of Keats's death. In a letter to his brother in April he mentions a Sunday evening at Haydon's with Wordsworth (whom he is surprised to see in a stiff collar), Lamb, Landseer, and others, where Lamb behaved very ill, and he himself "astonished the company at supper by keeping his two glasses going in a knowing way." His favourite drink was claret, no very accessible liquor in those times for a poor man, although by his purchase of a black-letter Chaucer and one or two other fine books he seems to have looked on the condition of his finances more hopefully than events justified. The best proof that his dissipation was, as he expressed it, a little too much rollicking," and nothing more, is to be found in the character of his immediate associates and in his intellectual exercise and development. The house he most frequented was that of Mr. Dilke, so well-known afterwards in the best walks of