« AnteriorContinuar »
ean, the third is Shandean. I know three people of no wit at all, each distinct in his excellence, A., B. and C. A. is the foolishest, B. is the sulkiest, and C. is the negative; A. makes you yawn, B. makes you hate, and as for C. you never see him at all, though he were six feet high; I bear the first, I forbear the second, I am not certain that the third is; the first is gruel, the second ditch-water, and the third is spilt and ought to be wiped up; A. is inspired by Jack of the Clock, B. has been drilled by a Russian serjeant, C. they say is not his mother's true child, but she bought [him] of the man who cries "young lambs to sell."
I will send you a close written sheet on the first of next month; but, for fear of missing the mail, I must finish here. God bless you, my dear sister.
Your affectionate brother,
The study of Italian, to which Keats had been latterly much addicted, had included Ariosto, and the humorous fairy poem on which he was engaged about this time apears to me to have originated in that occupation. He has stated, in a previous passage, that he still kept enough of his old tastes to prefer reading Chaucer to Ariosto, and the delightful vagaries of the master of Italian fancy would probably not have had so much effect on him but for Mr. Brown's intimate acquaintance with, and intense enjoyment of, those frailer charms of southern song. When, in after-times, Mr. Brown himself retired to Italy, he hardly ever passed a day without translating some portion of that school of Italian poetry, and he has left behind him a complete and admirable version of the first five cantos of Bojardo's “Orlando Innamorato.”
Keats had a notion to publish this fanciful poem under a feigned name, and that of "Lucy Vaughan Lloyd" suggested itself to him from some untraceable association. He never had even made up his mind what title to give it; the "Cap and Bells" and "Jealousies" were two he spoke of: I give here all that was written, not only because it exhibits his versatility of talent, but because it presents him, almost for the first time, in the light of a humorous writer, just at the moment of his existence when real anxieties were pressing most threateningly upon him, when the
struggle between his ever-growing passion and the miserable circumstances of his daily life was beating down his spirit, and when disease was advancing with stealthy, but not altogether unperceived, advances, to consummate by a cruel and lingering death the hard conditions of his mortal being. There is nothing in this combination which will surprise those who understand the poetic, or even the literary, nature, but I know few stronger instances of a moral phenomenon which the Hamlets of the world are for ever exhibiting to an audience that can only resolve the problem by doubting the reality of the one or the other feeling, of the mirth or of the misery.
I am unwilling to leave this, the last of Keats's literary labors, without a word of defence against the objection that might with some reason be raised against the originality of his genius, from the circumstance that it is easy to refer almost every poem he wrote to some suggestion of style and manner derived from preceding writers. From the Spenserian "Endymion," to those Ariosto-like stanzas, you can always see reflected in the mirror of his intellect the great works he is studying at the time. This is so generally the case with verse-writers, and the test has been so severely and successfully applied to many of the most noted authors of our time, that I should not have alluded to it had I not been desirous to claim for Keats an access to that inmost penetralium of Fame which is solely consecrated to original genius. The early English chronicle-dramas supplied Shakspeare with many materials and outlines for his historical plays, and the "Adamo" of Andreini has indisputably a great effect on the frame-work of “Paradise Lost ;" but every one feels that these accidents rather resemble the suggestions of nature which every mind, however independent, receives and assimilates, than what is ordinarily meant by plagiarism or imitation. In the case of Keats, his literary studies were apparently the sources of his productions, and his variety and facility of composition certainly increases very much in proportion to his reading, thus clearly showing how much he owed to those who had preceded him. But let us not omit two considerations :-first, that these resemblances of form or spirit are a reproduction, not an imitation, and that while they often are what those great masters might themselves have con
tentedly written, they always include something which the model has not-some additional intuitive vigor; and secondly, let us never forget, that wonderful as are the poems of Keats, yet, after all, they are rather the records of a poetical education than the accomplished work of the mature artist./This is in truth the chief interest of these pages; this is what these letters so vividly exhibit. Day by day, his imagination is extended, his fancy enriched, his taste purified; every fresh acquaintance with the motive minds of past generations leads him a step onwards in knowledge and in power; the elements of ancient genius become his own; the skill of faculties long spent revives in him; ever, like Nature herself, he gladly receives and energetically reproduces. And now we approach the consummation of his laborious work, the formation of a mind of the highest order; we hope to see the perfect fruit whose promise has been more than the perfection of noted men; we desire to sympathize with this realized idea of a great poet, from which he has ever felt himself so far, but which he yet knows he is ever approaching; we yearn to witness the full flow of this great spiritual river, whose source has long lain in the heart of the earth, and to which the streams of a thousand hills have ministered.
One night, about eleven o'clock, Keats returned home in a state of strange physical excitement-it might have appeared to those who did not know him, one of fierce intoxication. He told his friend he had been outside the stage-coach, had received a severe chill, was a little fevered, but added, "I don't feel it now." He was easily persuaded to go to bed, and as he leapt into the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed and said, "That is blood from my mouth; bring me the candle; let me see this blood." He gazed steadfastly for some moments at the ruddy stain, and then looking in his friend's face with an expression of sudden calmness never to be forgotten, said, 'I know the color of that blood-it is arterial blood-I cannot be deceived in that color; that drop is my death-warrant. I must die."
A surgeon was immediately called in, and, after being bled, Keats fell into a quiet sleep. The medical man declared his lungs to be uninjured, and the rupture not important, but he himself was of a different opinion, and with the frequent self-prescience
of disease, added to his scientific knowledge, he was not to be persuaded out of his forebodings. At times, however, the love of life, inherent in active natures, got the better of his gloom. "If you would have me recover," he said to his devoted friend and constant attendant, Mr. Brown, "flatter me with a hope of happiness when I shall be well, for I am now so weak that I can be flattered into hope." "Look at my hand," he said, another day, "it is that of a man of fifty."
The advancing year brought with it such an improvement in his health and strength, as in the estimation of many almost amounted to recovery. Gleams of his old cheerfulness returned, as the following letters evince. His own handwriting was always so clear and good as to be almost clerkly, and thus he can afford to joke at the exhibitions of his friends in that unimportant particular. In the case of Mr. Dilke, the long and useful career of that able and independent critic has been most intelligible in print to a generation of his fellow-countrymen, and his cordial appreciation and care of Keats will only add to his reputation for generosity and benevolence.
WENTWORTH PLACE, Feb. 16, 1820.
MY DEAR RICE,
I have not been well enough to make any tolerable rejoinder to your kind letter. I will, as you advise, be very chary of my health and spirits. I am sorry to hear of your relapse and hypochondriac symptoms attending it. Let us hope for the best, as you say. I shall follow your example in looking to the future good rather than brooding upon the present ill. I have not been so worn with lengthened illnesses as you have, therefore cannot answer you on your own ground with respect to those haunting and deformed thoughts and feelings you speak of. When I have been, or supposed myself in health, I have had my share of them, especially within the last year. I may say, that for six months before I was taken ill I had not passed a tranquil day. Either that gloom overspread me, or I was suffering under some passionate feeling, or if I turned to versify, that acerbated the poison of either sensation. The beauties of nature had lost their power over me. How astonishingly (here I must premise that illness,
as far as I can judge in so short a time, has relieved my mind of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and makes me perceive things in a truer light)-how astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon us! Like poor Falstaff, though I do not "babble," I think of green fields; I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancy-their shapes and colors are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy. It is because they are connected with the most thoughtless and the happiest moments of our lives. I have seen foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature, but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of our Spring are what I want to see again.
Brown has left the inventive and taken to the imitative art. He is doing his forte, which is copying Hogarth's heads. He has just made a purchase of the Methodist Meeting picture, which gave me a horrid dream a few nights ago. I hope I shall sit under the trees with you again in some such place as the Isle of Wight. I do not mind a game of cards in a saw-pit or wagon, but if ever you catch me on a stage-coach in the winter full against the wind, bring me down with a brace of bullets, and I promise not to 'peach. Remember me to Reynolds and say how much I should like to hear from him; that Brown returned immediately after he went on Sunday, and that I was vexed at forgetting to ask him to lunch; for as he went towards the gate, I saw he was fatigued and hungry.
I am, my dear Rice,
Ever most sincerely yours,
I have broken this open to let you know I was surprised at seeing it on the table this morning, thinking it had gone long ago.
[Postmark, HAMPSTEAD, March 4, 1820.]
MY DEAR DILKE,
Since I saw you I have been gradually, too gradually perhaps, improving; and, though under an interdict with respect