Imágenes de páginas

Muses bright, and muses pale,
Bare your faces of the veil ;
Let me see: and let me write
Of the day, and of the night-
Both together :-let me slake
All my thirst for sweet heart-ache!
Let my bower be of yew,
Interwreath'd with myrtles new ;
Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,
And my couch a low grass tomb.

A singular instance of Keats's delicate perception occurred in the composition of the "Ode on Melancholy." In the original manuscript, he had intended to represent the vulgar connection of Melancholy with gloom and horror, in contrast with the emotion that incites to,


"glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, Or on the wealth of globed peonies;"

and which essentially

"lives in Beauty-Beauty that must die, And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu."

The first stanza, therefore, was the following: as grim a picture as Blake or Fuseli could have dreamed and painted :

Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones,
And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch shrouds together for a sail, with groans
To fill it out, blood-stained and aghast ;
Although your rudder be a dragon's tail
Long severed, yet still hard with agony,
Your cordage large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa, certes you would fail
To find the Melancholy-whether she
Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull."

But no sooner was this written, than the poet became conscious that the coarseness of the contrast would destroy the general effect of luxurious tenderness which it was the object of the poem to produce, and he confined the gross notion of melancholy to less violent images, and let the ode at once begin,—

No, no! go not to Lethe, neither twist

Wolf's bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine ;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kissed

By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine," &c.

The "Eve of St. Agnes" was begun on a visit in Hampshire, at the commencement of this year, and finished on his return to Hampstead. It is written still under Spenserian influences, but with a striking improvement in form, both of diction and versification; the story is easily conducted, and the details picturesque in the highest degree, without the intricate designing of the earlier poems. Lord Jeffrey remarks: "The glory and charm of the poem is the description of the fair maiden's antique chamber and of all that passes in that sweet and angel-guarded sanctuary, every part of which is touched with colors at once rich and delicate, and the whole chastened and harmonized in the midst of its gorgeous distinctness by a pervading grace and purity, that indicate not less clearly the exaltation, than the refinement of the author's fancy."

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 conduct-Keats, the diction and the verse. The two composers sat 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 neutralize 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. The manager, however, from some unknown cause, declared himself 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 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 treasure-house 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 Georgethat 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 moralized 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 too 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 ?"



SHANKLIN, August 2, 1819.


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 every thing; 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

« AnteriorContinuar »