Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the painter's imagination ; the white curtains, the white sheets, the white shirt, and the white skin of his friend, all contrasted with the bright hectic flush on his cheek and heightened the sinis. ter effect: he went away hardly hoping.

WENTWORTH PLACE, (14th August, 1820.) My DEAR TAYLOR,

My chest is in such a nervous state, that any thing extra, such as speaking to an unaccustomed person, or writing a note, half suffocates me. This journey to Italy wakes me at day. light every morning, and haunts me horribly. I shall endeavor to go, though it be with the sensation of marching up against a battery. Tne first step towards it is to know the expense of a journey and a year's residence, which if you will ascertain for me, and let me know early, you will greatly serve me. I have more to say, but must desist, for every line I write increases the tightness of my chest, and I have many more to do.

I am convinced that this sort of thing does not continue for nothing. If you can come, with any of our friends, do.

Your sincere friend,

JOHN KEATS.

MY DEAR BROWN,

I ought to be off at the end of this week, as the cold winds begin to blow towards evening ;—but I will wait till I have your answer to this. I am to be introduced, before I set out, to a Dr. Clark, a physician settled at Rome, who promises to befriend me in every way there. The sale of my book is very slow, though it has been very highly rated. One of the causes, I understand from different quarters, of the unpopularity of this new book, is the offence the ladies take at me. On thinking that matter over, I am certain that I have said nothing in a spirit to displease any woman I would care to please ; but still there is a tendency to class women in my books with roses and sweetmeats,they never see themselves dominant. I will say no more, but, waiting in anxiety for your answer, doff my hat, and make a purse as long as I can.

Your affectionate friend,

John Keats.

The acquaintance between Keats and Mr. Severn, the artist, had begun about the end of 1817, and a similarity of general tastes soon led to a most agreeable interchange of their reciprocal abilities. To Severn the poetical faculty of Keats was an ever. flowing source of enjoyment and inspiration—to Keats the double talent of Severn for painting and music imparted the principles and mechanical processes of Art. Keats himself had a taste for painting that might have been cultivated into skill, and he could produce a pleasing musical effect, though possessing hardly any voice. He would sit for hours while Severn was playing, following the air with a low kind of recitative. “I delight in Haydn's symphonies,

,” he one day said, “he is like a child; there's no knowing what he will do next. Shakspeare's Songs, such as

“ Full fathom five thy father lies,”

and

66

The rain it raineth every day,"

set to music by Purcell, were great favorites with him.

Mr. Severn had had the gratification, from the commencement of their acquaintance, of bringing Keats into communion with the great masters of painting. A notable instance of the impression made on that susceptible nature by those achievements is manifest as early as the Hymn in the fourth book of the “Endymion," which is, in fact, the “Bacchus and Ariadne” of Titian, now in our National Gallery, translated into verse. Take these images as examples :

And as I sat, over the light blue hills

There came a noise of revelers ; the rills
Into the wide stream came of purple hue-

'Twas Bacchus and his crew!
The earnest trumpet spake, and silver thrills
From kissing cymbals made a merry din-

'Twas Bacchus and his kin!
Like to a moving vintage down they came,
Crowned with green leaves, and faces all on flame.

*

*

“ Within his car, aloft, young Bacchus stood,
Trifling his ivy-dart, in dancing mood,

With sidelong laughing;

[blocks in formation]

At the period occupied by this narrative, the gold medal to be adjudged by the Royal Academy for the best historical painting had not been given for the last twelve years, no work having been produced which the judges regarded as deserving so high an acknowledgment of merit. When therefore it was given to Mr. Severn for his painting of Spenser's “Cave of Despair” there burst out a chorus of long-hoarded discontents, which fell severely on the successful candidate. Severn had long worked at the pic. ture in secret-Keats watching its progress with the greatest interest. I have already mentioned one instance in which the poet passionately defended his friend when attacked, and now the time was come when that and similar proofs of attachment were to receive abundant compensation. Entirely regardless of his future prospects, and ready to abandon all the advantages of the position he had won, Mr. Severn at once offered to accompany Keats to Italy. For the change of climate now remained the only chance of prolonging a life so dear both to genius and to friendship, and a long and lonely voyage, and solitary transportation to a foreign land, must, with such a sympathetic and affectionate nature, neutralize all outward advantages, to say nothing of the miserable condition in which he would be reduced in case the disease did not give way to the alteration of scene and temperature. Such a companionship, therefore, as this which was proposed, was every thing to him, and though he reproached himself on his death-bed with permitting Severn to make the sacrifice, it no doubt afforded all the alleviation of which his sad condition was capable.

During a pedestrian tour, occasional delays in the delivery of letters are inevitable. Thus Mr. Brown walked on disappointed

from one post-office to another, till, on the ninth of September, he received at Dunkeld the above alarming intelligence. He lost no time in embarking at Dundee, and arrived in London only one day too late. Unknown to each, the vessels containing these two anxious friends lay a whole night side by side at Gravesend, and by an additional irony of fate, when Keats's ship was driven back into Portsmouth by stress of weather, Mr. Brown was staying in the neighborhood within ten miles, when Keats landed and spent a day on shore. Nothing was left to him but to make his preparations for following Keats as speedily as possible, and remaining with him in Italy, if it turned out that a southern climate was necessary for the preservation of his life.

The voyage began under tolerably prosperous auspices. “Keats," wrote Mr. Severn on the 20th of September, “looks very happy; for myself, I would not change with any one.” One of his companions in the vessel was a young lady afflicted with the same malady as himself, and whose illness often diverted his thoughts from his own. Yet there are in the following letter deep tones of moral and physical suffering, which perhaps only found utterance in communion with the friend from whom he was almost conscious he was parting for ever.

He landed once more in England, on the Dorchester coast, after a weary fortnight spent in bearing about the Channel : the bright beauty of the day and the scene revived for a moment the poet's drooping heart, and the inspiration remained on him for some time even after his return to the ship. It was then that he composed that Sonnet of solemn tenderness

“ Bright star! would I were stedfast as thou art,” &c.*

and wrote it out in a copy of Shakspeare's Poems he had given to Severn a few days before. I know of nothing written afterwards.

MARIA CROWTHER,

Of Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, Sept. 28, 1820. My Dear BROWN,

The time has not yet come for a pleasant letter from I have delayed writing to you from time to time, because I

me.

* See the “ Literary Remains.”

felt how impossible it was to enliven you with one heartening hope of my recovery. This morning in bed the matter struck me in a different manner; I thought I would write “while I was in some liking,” or I might become too ill to write at all; and then, if the desire to have written should become strong, it would be a great affliction to me. I have many more letters to write, and I bless my stars that I have begun, for time seems to press. This may

be

my best opportunity. We are in a calm, and I am easy enough this morning. If my spirits seem too low you may in some degree impute it to our having been at sea a fortnight without making any way. I was very disappointed at Bedhampton, and was much provoked at the thought of your being at Chiches. ter to-day. I should have delighted in setting off for London for the sensation merely, for what should I do there? I could not leave my lungs or stomach, or other worse things behind me. I wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much. There is one I must mention and have done with it. Even if my body would recover of itself, this would prevent it. / The very thing which I want to live most for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it. Who can help it? Were I in health it would make me ill, and how can I bear it in my state ? I dare say you will be able to guess on what subject I am harping—you know what was my greatest pain during the first part of

my

illness at your house. I wish for death every day and night to deliver me from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would destroy even those pains, which are better than nothing. Land and sea, weakness and decline, are great separators, but Death is the great divorcer for ever. When the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I may say the bitterness of death is passed. I often wish for you, that you might flatter me with the best. I think, without my mentioning it, for my sake, you would

be a friend to Miss when I am dead. You think she has -- many faults, but for my sake think she has not one. If there is

any thing you can do for her by word or deed I know you will do it. I am in a state at present in which woman, merely as woman, can have no more power over me than stocks and stones, and yet the difference of my sensations with respect to Miss sister is amazing—the one seems to absorb the other to a degree

and my

« AnteriorContinuar »