« AnteriorContinuar »
voice he may, indeed, have experienced a momentary annoyance, but, if no evidence survived, the noble candor and simplicity of this answer is quite sufficient to place the question in its true light, and to silence forever the exclamations either of honest wrath or contemptuous compassion. Still the malice was weak only because the genius was strong; the arrows were poisoned, though the armor they struck was proof and able to save the life within.
MY DEAR HESSEY,
9th Oct. 1818.
You are very good in sending me the letters from the Chronicle, and I am very bad in not acknowledging such a kindness sooner pray forgive me. It has so chanced that I have had that paper every day. I have seen to-day's. I cannot but feel indebted to those gentlemen who have taken my part. As for the rest, I begin to get a little 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 on 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 "slip-shod 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 it 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 Genius 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 comforta
ble advice. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest. But I am nigh getting into a rant; so, with remembrances to Taylor and Woodhouse, &c., I am,
Yours very sincerely,
On returning to the south, Keats found his brother alarmingly ill, and immediately joined him at Teignmouth. They returned together to Hampstead, where he gradually sunk under the disease, affectionately tended and fraternally mourned. He was of a most gentle and witty nature, and resembled John in character and appearance. In Keats's copy of Shakspeare, the words Poor Tom, in "King Lear," are pathetically underlined.
MY DEAR BAILEY,
13 March TEIGNMOUTH, Sept. 1818.
When a poor devil is drowning, it is said he comes thrice to the surface before he makes his final sink; if, however, at third rise, he can manage to catch hold of a piece of weed or rock, he stands a fair chance, as I hope I do now, of being saved. I have sunk twice in our correspondence, have risen twice, and have been too idle, or something worse, to extricate myself. I have sunk the third time, and just now risen again at this two of the clock P. M., and saved myself from utter perdition by beginning this, all drenched as I am, and fresh from the water. And I would rather endure the present inconvenience of a wet jacket than you should keep a laced one in store for me. Why did I not stop at Oxford in my way? How can you ask such a question? Why did I not promise to do so? Did I not, in a letter to you, make a promise to do so? Then how can you be so unreasonable as to ask me why I did not? This is the thing— (for I have been rubbing my invention; trying several sleights: I first polished a cold, felt it in my fingers, tried it on the table, but could not pocket it: I tried chilblains, rheumatism, gout, tight boots, nothing of that sort would do,—so this is, as I was going to say, the thing)-I had a letter from Tom, saying how much better he had got, and thinking he had better stop. I went
down to prevent his coming up. Will not this do? Turn it which way you like-it is selvaged all round. I have used it, these three last days, to keep out the abominable Devonshire weather. By the by, you may say what you will of Devonshire : the truth is, it is a splashy, rainy, misty, snowy, foggy, haily, floody, muddy, slipshod county. The hills are very beautiful, when you get a sight of 'em; the primroses are out,-but then you are in; the cliffs are of a fine deep color, but then the clouds are continually vieing with them. The women like your London people in a sort of negative way-because the native men are the poorest creatures in England. When I think of Wordsworth's Sonnet, "Vanguard of Liberty! ye men of Kent!" the degenerated race about me are pulvis Ipecac. simplex-a strong dose. Were I a corsair, I'd make a descent on the south coast of Devon; if I did not run the chance of having cowardice imputed to me. As for the men, they'd run away into the Methodist meeting-houses; and the women would be glad of it. Had England been a large Devonshire, we should not have won the battle of Waterloo. There are knotted oaks, there are lusty rivulets, there are meadows such as are not elsewhere, but there are no thews and sinews. "Moore's Almanack" is here a curiosity arms, neck, and shoulders may at least be seen there, and the ladies read it as some out-of-the-way romance. Such a quelling power have these thoughts over me that I fancy the very air of a deteriorating quality. I fancy the flowers, all precocious, have an Acrasian spell about them; I feel able to beat off the Devonshire waves like soap-froth. I think it well, for the honor of England, that Julius Cæsar did not first land in this county. A Devonshirer, standing on his native hills, is not a distinct object; he does not show against the light; a wolf or two would dispossess him. I like, I love England-I like its living men-give me a long brown plain for my money, so I may meet with some of Edmund Ironside's descendants; give me a barren mould, so I may meet with some shadowing of Alfred in the shape of a gipsey, a huntsman, or a shepherd. Scenery is fine, but human nature is finer; the sward is richer for the tread of a real nervous English foot; the eagle's nest is finer, for the mountaineer having looked into it. Are these facts or
prejudices? Whatever they be, for them I shall never be able to relish entirely any Devonshire scenery. Homer is fine, Achilles is fine, Diomed is fine, Shakspeare is fine-Hamlet is fine, Lear is fine-but dwindled Englishmen are not fine. Where, too, the women are so passable, and and have such English names, such as Ophelia, Cordelia, &c., that they should have such paramours, or rather imparamours! As for them, I cannot, in thought, help wishing, as did the cruel emperor, that they had but one head, that I might cut it off, to deliver them from any horrible courtesy they may do their undeserving countrymen. I wonder I meet with no born monsters. .O! Devonshire, last night I thought the moon had dwindled in heaven.
I have never had your Sermon from Wordsworth, but Mr. Dilke lent it me. You know my ideas about Religion. I do not think myself more in the right than other people, and that nothing in this world is provable. I wish I could enter into all your feelings on the subject, merely for one short ten minutes, and give you a page or two to your liking. I am sometimes so very skeptical as to think Poetry itself a mere Jack o' Lanthorn to amuse whoever may chance to be struck with its brilliance. As tradesmen say every thing is worth what it will fetch, so probably every mental pursuit takes its reality and worth from the ardor of the pursuer being in itself a nothing. Ethereal things may at least be thus real, divided under three heads-things real, things semi-real, and nothings; things real, such as existences of sun, moon, and stars, and passages of Shakspeare; things semi-real, such as love, the clouds, &c., which require a greeting of the spirit to make them wholly exist; and nothings, which are made great and dignified by an ardent pursuit—which, by the by, stamp the Burgundy-mark on the bottles of our minds, insomuch as they are able to "consecrate whate'er they look upon." I have written a sonnet here of a somewhat collateral nature. So don't imagine
it is "
Four seasons fill the measure of the year," &c.*
Aye, this may be carried—but what am I talking of? It is an old maxim of mine, and of course must be well known, that
* See the "Literary Remains."
every point of thought is the centre of an intellectual world. The two uppermost thoughts in a man's mind are the two poles of his world; he revolves on them, and every thing is southward and northward to him through their means. We take but three steps from feathers to iron. Now, my dear fellow, I must, once for all, tell you I have not one idea of the truth of any of my speculations: I shall never be a reasoner, because I care not to be in the right, when retired from bickering and in a proper philosophical temper. So you must not stare, if, in any future letter, I endeavor to prove that Apollo, as he had catgut strings to his lyre, used a cat's paw as a pecten-and, further, from [the] said pecten's reiterated and continual teasing, came the term hen-pecked.
My brother Tom desires to be remembered to you; he has just this moment had a spitting of blood, poor fellow! Remember me to Grey and Whitehead.
Your affectionate friend,
MY DEAR WOODHOUSE,
[Post-mark HAMPSTEAD, 27 Oct., 1818]
Your letter gave me great satisfaction, more on account of its friendliness than any relish of that matter in it which is accounted so acceptable in the "genus irritabile." The best answer I can give you is in a clerklike manner to make some observations on two principal points which seem to point like indices into the midst of the whole pro and con about genius, and views, and achievements, and ambition, et cetera. 1st. As to the poetical character itself (I mean that sort, of which, if I am any thing, I am a member; that sort distinguished from the Wordsworthian, or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se, and stands alone), it is not itself—it has no self-it is every thing and nothing-it has no character-it enjoys light and shade-it lives in gusts, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated,—it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the cameleon It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things,