« AnteriorContinuar »
the invention is very striking. I own I doubt whether if the contrivance of the double authorship had not been resorted to, Keats could of himself, at least at this time, have produced a much better play: the failure of Coleridge's "Remorse" is an example to the point, and it is probable that the philosophic generalities of the one poet did not stand more in the way of dramatic excellence than the superhuman imagery and creative fancy of the other; it is conceivable that Keats might have written a “Midsummer's Night Dream,” just as Coleridge might have written a “Hamlet;' but in both that great human element would have been wanting, which Shakspeare so wonderfully combines with abstract reflection and with fairy-land.
As soon as Keats had finished “Otho,” Mr. Brown suggested to him the character and reign of King Stephen, beginning with his defeat by the Empress Maud and ending with the death of his son Eustace, as a fine subject for an English historical tragedy. This Keats undertook, assuming, however, to himself the whole conduct of the drama, and wrote some hundred and thirty lines; this task, however, soon gave place to the impressive tale of "Lamia,” which had been in hand for some time, and which he wrote with great care, after much study of Dryden's versification. It is quite the perfection of narrative poetry. The story was taken from that treasurehouse of legendary philosophy, “Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy."
He contemplated a poem of some length on the subject of “Sabrina," as suggested by Milton, and often spoke of it, but I do not find any fragments of the work.
A letter to Mr. Reynolds, dated Shanklin, July 12, contains allusions to his literary progress and his pecuniary difficulties.
“You will be glad to hear, under my own hand, (though Rice says we are like Sauntering Jack and Idle Joe), how diligent I have been, and am being. I have finished the act, and in the interval of beginning the second have proceeded pretty well with *Lamia,' finishing the first part, which consists of about four hundred lines. I have great hopes of success, because I make use of my judgment more deliberately than I have yet done ; but in case of failure with the world, I shall find my content. And here (as I know you have my good at heart as much as a brother), I can only repeat to you what I have said to George—that however I should like to enjoy what the competencies of life procure, I am in no wise dashed at a different prospect.
I have spent too many thoughtful days, and moralised through too many nights for that, and fruitless would they be indeed, if they did not, by degrees, make me look upon the affairs of the world with a healthy deliberation. I have of late been moulting not for fresh feathers and wings,—they are gone, and in their stead I hope to have a pair of patient sublunary legs. I have altered, not from a chrysalis into a butterfly, but the contrary; having two little loopholes, whence I may look out into the stage of the world, and that world, on our coming here, I almost forgot. The first time I sat down to write, I could scarcely believe in the necessity for so doing. It struck me as a great oddity. Yet the very corn which is now so beautiful, as if it had only took to ripening yesterday, is for the market; so, why should I be delicate ?"
August 2, 1819. MY DEAR DILKE,
I will not make my diligence an excuse for not writing to you sooner, because I consider idleness a much better plea. A man in the hurry of business of any sort, is expected, and ought to be expected, to look to everything; his mind is in a whirl, and what matters it, what whirl ? But to require a letter of a man lost in idleness is the utmost cruelty; you cut the thread of his existence; you beat, you pummel him; you sell his goods and chattels; you put him in prison ; you impale him; you crucify him. If I had not put pen to paper since I saw you, this would be to me a vi et armis taking up before the judge; but having got over my darling lounging habits a little, it is with scarcely any pain I come to this dating from Shanklin. The Isle of Wight is but so-so, &c. Rice and I passed rather a dull time of it. I hope he will not repent coming with me. He was unwell, and I was not in very good health ; and I am afraid we made each other worse by acting upon each other's spirits. We would grow as melancholy as need be. I confess I cannot bear a sick person in a house, especially alone. It weighs upon me day and night, and more so when perhaps the cause is irretrievable. Indeed, I think Rice is in a dangerous state. I have had a letter from him which speaks favourably of his health at present. Brown and I are pretty well harnessed again to our dog-cart. I mean the tragedy, which goes on sinkingly. We are thinking of introducing an elephant, but have not historical reference within reach to determine us as to Otho's menagerie. When Brown first mentioned this I took it for a joke ; however, he brings such plausible reasons, and discourses so eloquently on the dramatic effect, that I am giving it a serious consideration. The Art of Poetry is not sufficient for us, and if we get on in that as well as we do in painting, we shall, by next winter, crush the Reviews and the Royal Academy. Indeed, if Brown would take a little of my advice, he could not fail to be first pallette of his day. But, odd as it may appear, he says plainly that he cannot see any force in my plea of putting skies in the background, and leaving Indian-ink out of an ash-tree. The other day he was sketching Shanklin Church, and as I saw how the business was going on, I challenged him to a trial of skill : he lent me pencil and paper. We keep the sketches to contend for the prize at the Gallery. I will not say whose I think best, but really I do not think Brown's done to the top of the Art.
A word or two on the Isle of Wight. I have been no further than Steephill. If I may guess, I should [say] that there is no finer part in the island than from this place to Steephill. I do not hesitate to say it is fine. Bonchurch is the best. But I have been so many finer walks, with a back-ground of lake and mountain, instead of the sea, that I am not much touched with it, though I credit it for all the surprise I should have felt if it had taken my cockney maidenhead. But I may call myself an old stager in the picturesque, and unless it be something very large and overpowering, I cannot receive any extraordinary relish.