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LETTERS, AND LITERARY REMAINS,
RICHARD MONCKTON MILNES.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
LIFE AND LETTERS
THE greater part of this summer (1819) was passed
at Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight, in company with Mr. Brown, who earnestly encouraged the full development of the genius of his friend. A combination of intellectual effort was here attempted which could hardly have been expected to be very successful. They were to write a play between them—Brown to supply the fable, characters, and dramatic conductKeats, the diction and the verse. The two composers sat opposite at a table, and as Mr. Brown sketched out the incidents of each scene, Keats translated them into his rich and ready language. As a literary diversion, this process was probably both amusing and instructive, but it does not require any profound
æsthetic pretensions to pronounce that a work of art thus created could hardly be worthy of the name. Joint compositions, except of a humorous character, are always dangerous attempts, and it is doubtful whether such a transference of faculties as they presuppose, is possible at all; at any rate, the unity of form and feeling must receive an injury hard to be compensated by any apparent improvement of the several parts. Nay, it is quite conceivable that two men, either of whom would have separately produced an effective work, should give an incomplete and hybrid character to a common production, sufficient to neutralise every excellence and annihilate every charm. A poem or a drama is not a picture, in which one artist may paint the landscape, and another the figures; and a certain imperfection and inferiority of parts is often more agreeable than an attempt at that entire completeness which it is only given to the very highest to attain. The incidents, as suggested by Mr. Brown, after some time struck Keats as too melo-dramatic, and he completed the fifth act alone. This tragedy, "Otho the Great," was sent to Drury Lane, and accepted by Elliston, with a promise to bring it forward the same season. Kean seems to have been pleased with the principal character, and to have expressed a desire to act it. however, from some unknown cause, declared himself
The manager, unable to perform his engagement, and Mr. Brown, who conducted the negotiation without mention of Keats's name, withdrew the manuscript and offered it to Covent Garden, where it met with no better fate, to the considerable annoyance of the author, who wrote to his friend Rice, “ 'Twould do one's heart good to see Macready in Ludolph.” The unfitness of this tragedy for representation is too apparent to permit the managers of the two theatres to be accused of injustice or partiality. Had the name of Keats been as popular as it was obscure, and his previous writing as successful as it was misrepresented and misunderstood, there was not sufficient interest in either the plot or the characters to keep the play on the stage for a week. The story is confused and unreal, and the personages are mere embodied passions; the heroine and her brother walk through the whole piece like the demons of an old romance, and the historical character, who gives his name to the play, is almost excluded from its action and made a part of the pageantry. To the reader, however, the want of interest is fully redeemed by the beauty and power of passages continually recurring, and which are not cited here, only because it is pleasanter for every one to find them out for himself. There is scarce a page without some touch of a great poet, and the contrast between the glory of the diction and the poverty of