Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

praise 'Solomon's Guide to Health?' it is better sense, and as much poetry as Johnny Keats."

After this unmeasured language, one is surprised to find Lord Byron not only one of the sharpest reprovers of the critics upon Keats, but emphatic in the acknowledgment of his genius. In a long note (Nov. 1821), he attributes his indignation to Keats's depreciation of Pope, which, he says, "hardly permitted me to do justice to his own genius which, malgré all the fantastic fopperies of his style, was undoubtedly of great promise. His fragment of Hyperion' seems actually inspired by the Titians, and is as sublime as Eschylus. He is a loss to our literature, and the more so, as he himself, before his death, is said to have been persuaded that he had not taken the right line, and was reforming his style upon the more classical models of the language." To Mr. Murray himself, a short time before, Byron had written, “You know very well that I did not approve of Keats's poetry, or principles of poetry, or of his abuse of Pope; but, as he is dead, omit all that is said about him, in any MSS. of mine or publication. His 'Hyperion' is a fine monument, and will keep his name.' This injunction, however, has been so little attended to by those who should have respected it, that the later editions of Lord Byron's works contain all the ribald abuse I have quoted, although the exclusion would, in literal terms, even extend to the well-known flippant and false, but not ill-natured, stanza of the 11th canto of " Don Juan.”

"John Keats, who was kill'd off by one critique,
Just as he really promised something great,

If not intelligible, without Greek

Contrived to talk about the gods of late,

Much as they might have been supposed to speak.
Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate;
'T is strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuff'd out by an article."

The excuse offered by Byron for all this inconsistency is by no means satisfactory, and this sort of repentant praise may be attributed to a mixed feeling of conscious injustice, and to a certain gratification at the notion that Keats had fallen victim to a

6

kind of attack which his own superior vigor and stouter fibre had enabled him triumphantly to resist. In a letter to Murray (1821) Byron writes, "I knew, by experience, that a savage review is hemlock to a sucking author: and the one on me (which produced the English Bards,' &c.) knocked me down--but I got up again. Instead of breaking a blood-vessel I drank three bottles of claret, and began an answer, finding that there was nothing in the article for which I could, lawfully, knock Jeffrey on the head, in an honorable way. However, I would not be the person who wrote that homicidal article, for all the honor and glory in the world; though I by no means approve of that school of scribbling which it treats upon." Keats, as has been shown, was very far from requiring three bottles of claret to give him the inclination to fight the author of the slander, if he could have found him, -but the use he made of the attack was, to purify his style, correct his tendency to exaggeration, enlarge his poetical studies, and produce, among other improved efforts, that very "Hyperion " which called forth from Byron a eulogy as violent and unqualified as the former onslaught.

"Review people," again wrote Lord Byron, "have no more right to kill than any other footpads. However, he who would die of an article in a review would have died of something else equally trivial. The same nearly happened to Kirke White, who died afterwards of a consumption." Now the cases of Keats and Kirke White are just so far parallel, that Keats did die shortly after the criticisms upon him, and also of consumption: his friends also, while he still lived, spent a great deal of useless care upon these critics, and, out of an honest anger, gave encouragement to the notion that their brutality had a most injurious effect on the spirit and health of the Poet; but a conscientious inquiry entirely dispels such a supposition. In all this correspondence it must be seen how little importance Keats attaches to such opinions, how rarely he alludes to them at all, and how easily, when he does so ; how lowly was his own estimate of the very works they professed to judge, in comparison with what he felt himself capable of producing, and how completely he, in his world of art, rested above such paltry assailants. After his early death, the accusation was revived by the affectionate indignation of Mr. Brown; and Shel

ley, being in Italy, readily adopted the same tone. On the publication of the volume containing "Lamia," "Isabella," "St. Agnes' Eve," and "Hyperion," Shelley wrote a letter which, on second thoughts, he left unfinished: it shows, however, how entirely he believed Keats to be at the mercy of the critics, and how he could bend for others that pride which ever remained erect for himself.

"SIR,

6

"To the Editor of the Quarterly Review.'

"Should you cast your eye on the signature of this letter before you read the contents, you might imagine that they related to a slanderous paper which appeared in your Review some time since. I never notice anonymous attacks. The wretch who wrote it has doubtless the additional reward of a consciousness of his motives, besides the thirty guineas a sheet, or whatever it is that you pay him. Of course you cannot be answerable for all the writings which you edit, and I certainly bear you no ill-will for having edited the abuse to which I allude—indeed, I was too much amused by being compared to Pharaoh, not to readily forgive editor, printer, publisher, stitcher, or any one, excepting the despicable writer, connected with something so exquisitely entertaining. Seriously speaking, I am not in the habit of permitting myself to be disturbed by what is said or written of me, though I dare say, I may be condemned sometimes justly enough. But I feel, in respect to the writer in question, that 'I am there sitting, where he durst not soar.'

"The case is different with the unfortunate subject of this letter, the author of 'Endymion,' to whose feelings and situation I entreat you to allow me to call your attention. I write considerably in the dark; but if it is Mr. Gifford that I am addressing, I am persuaded that, in an appeal to his humanity and justice, he will acknowledge the fas ab hoste doceri. I am aware that the first duty of a reviewer is towards the public, and I am willing to confess that the 'Endymion' is a poem considerably defective, and that, perhaps, it deserved as much censure as the pages of your Review record against it; but, not to mention that there is a certain contemptuousness of phraseology from which it is difficult

for a critic to abstain, in the review of 'Endymion,' I do not think that the writer has given it its due praise. Surely the poem, with all its faults, is a very remarkable production for a man of Keats's age, and the promise of ultimate excellence is such as has rarely been afforded even by such as have afterwards attained high literary eminence. Look at book ii., line 833, &c., and book iii., line 113 to 120; read down that page, and then again from line 193. I could cite many other passages, to convince you that it deserved milder usage. Why it should have been reviewed at all, excepting for the purpose of bringing its excellences into notice, I cannot conceive, for it was very little read, and there was no danger that it should become a model to the age of that false taste, with which I confess that it is replenished.

"Poor Keats was thrown into a dreadful state of mind by this review, which, I am persuaded, was not written with any intention of producing the effect, to which it has, at least, greatly contributed, of embittering his existence, and inducing a disease, from which there are now but faint hopes of his recovery. The first effects are described to me to have resembled insanity, and it was by assiduous watching that he was restrained from effecting purposes of suicide. The agony of his sufferings at length produced the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs, and the usual process of consumption appears to have begun. He is coming to pay me a visit in Italy; but I fear that, unless his mind can be kept tranquil, little is to be hoped from the mere influence of climate.

"But let me not extort any thing from your pity. I have just seen a second volume, published by him evidently in careless despair. I have desired my bookseller to send you a copy, and allow me to solicit your especial attention to the fragment of a poem entitled 'Hyperion,' the composition of which was checked by the Review in question. The great proportion of this piece is surely in the very highest style of poetry. I speak impartially, for the canons of taste to which Keats has conformed in his other compositions, are the very reverse of my own. I leave you to judge for yourself; it would be an insult to you to suppose that, from motives however honorable, you would lend yourself to a deception of the public."

*

*

*

This letter was never sent; but, in its place, when Keats was

dead, Shelley used a very different tone, and hurled his contemptuous defiance at the anonymous slanderer, in these memorable lines:

"Our Adonais has drunk poison-oh!

What deaf and viperous murderer could crown
Life's early cup with such a draught of woe?
The nameless worm would now itself disown;
It felt, yet could escape the magic tone
Whose prelude held all envy, hate and wrong,
But what was howling in one breast alone,
Silent with expectation of the song,

Whose master's hand is cold, whose silver lyre unstrung.

"Live thou, whose infamy is not thy fame!
Live! fear no heavier chastisement from me,
Thou noteless blot on a remembered name!
But be thyself, and know thyself to be!
And ever in thy season be thou free

To spill the venom when thy fangs o'erflow;
Remorse and Self-contempt shall cling to thee;
Hot Shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt-as now,

Adonais-Stanzas 36, 37.

Now, from the enthusiastic friend, let us turn, joyfully, to the undeniable testimony of the Poet himself, writing confidentially to his publisher. Mr. Hessey had sent him a letter that appeared in the Morning Chronicle, of October 3d, earnestly remonstrating against these examples of tyrannous criticism, and asking whether they could have proceeded from the translator of Juvenal [Mr. Gifford], who had prefixed to his work "that manly and pathetic narrative of genius oppressed and struggling with innumerable difficulties, yet finally triumphing under patronage and encouragement; or from the biographer of Kirke White [Mr. Southey], who had expostulated with the monthly reviewer, who sat down. to blast the hopes of a boy who had confessed to him all his hopes and all his difficulties." The letter was signed "J. S.,” and its author remained unknown. The newspapers generally spoke favorably of "Endymion," so that Keats could not even regard the offensive articles as the general expression of the popular

« AnteriorContinuar »