Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

а

ز

you have lost every claim to the character of a gentleman." It is also curious to find that even among themselves, they were not very genial, and as Mrs. Gordon says of Lockhart, “the gay coteries of London injured his interest in the old friends who had worked hand-inhand with him when in Edinburgh.” The truth is his breath was so poisonous his nearest friends gave

him wide berth, and when he succeeded to the more important journal in London, he dropt the violent Edinburgh Magazine and its surroundings.

The writer has said that he remembers as a boy how much these animosities occupied conversation; and he trusts the reader will not think it impertinent or egotistic if he says further, that the first chance he had of expressing himself on the subject, he did so in the shape of verses to the memories of Shelley and of Keats, the latter published in a little book called “The Edinburgh University Souvenir," under the very nose of the Professor, and expressly sent to him.

To turn from the critics to the poet himself, how great is the change, it is like passing from the hospital into a garden ! These introductory sentences will indeed furnish a contrast to the succeeding narrative of the short life of unselfish enthusiasm and high endeavour, of noble instincts and the exercise of mental powers that make every word valuable, and the most trivial action interesting. In all his verses we find the bravery of youth, the freshness of new motives and emotional enjoyment, and above all the strong invincible

personality that stamped all he wrote his and no other's, which personality more than anything else raised the bile of his opponents whose claims to consideration were adventitious and external.

The grandfather of John Keats was a livery-stable keeper in the city, and must have been in the highest position in that kind of business, leaving a considerable fortune. We do not know whether he had any other children besides the mother of the poet and her brother, but at her death, John and his brother and sister, little more than children at the time, received between them £8000, a comparatively rare fortune eighty years ago. His father receives scarceiy any notice even in Lord Houghton's excellent memoir, all we seem to know of him is that he was killed by a fall from his horse, at the age of thirty-six, in 1804, leaving four children, George, the eldest, John, our dearly beloved poet, Thomas, younger a year or two, who preceded him to the grave by the same lingering disease, deeply distressing John, who had an overpowering affection for his family; and a

r sister much younger, who married, after the poet's death, a Señor Llaños, the author of sundry works of ability. At the time of his father's death, John was nine years of age, having been born at his grandfather's in Moorfields on the 29th of October, 1795.

The character of Keats' mother seems to have been marked by peculiarities, fondness of amusements being one, not a very uncommon or eccentric peculiarity in a young widow, especially then, when the theatre was so much more resorted to than it is now. She determined, however, to give her children a sound scholastic training, and it seems Harrow was proposed for the boys, but abandoned for economical reasons, and Enfield school preferred, a school then in high repute kept by Mr. Clarke, whose son, Charles Cowden Clarke, was John Keats' chum and friend through life afterwards. Three boys at Harrow, would have been rather too much for the young widow “fond of amusements, but it was not long before she succumbed to consumption and followed her husband, so the young Keats' were left in charge of executors. At this time, and indeed until Keats reached his short term of manhood and saw early death and uncertain fame before him, he exhibited a strong, active, resolute, and pugnacious disposition, he was always fighting, violently attacked his usher who had chastised his brother, and chose his associates among those who were the fighters in the school. The uncle already mentioned had been an officer in Duncan's ship in the battle off Camperdown, and all the boys it is said aspired to the virtues of endurance and bravery. This was modified in John by exceeding sensibility and mobility of temper, storms of tears and of laughter following each other almost without any interval. “ His skill in all manly exercises and the perfect generosity of his disposition, made him extremely popular; he combined,” writes one of his schoolfellows, “a terrier-like resoluteness with the most noble placability ;” another, Mr. Holmes, author of the “ Life of Mozart," reports that his energy impressed them all with an idea of his future greatness, “ but rather in a military or in some such active sphere of life, than in the peaceful arena of literature.” This impression, resulting from his skill in robust exercises, as well as his pugnacity, may be thought remarkable, made by one who was to die of consumption at twenty-four, but muscular strength is by no means incompatible with the predisposition to that incurable disease, which he and his brother inherited from their mother, as certainly as they inherited life. His figure and face too indicated strength, broad shoulders and powerful arms, and long after his school days he took a boy's quarrel in hand, and had what is described as a regular mill with a young butcher who was illtreating the little fellow, and punished him to his heart's content. All this takes us quite by surprise, and we must remember this combativeness and vigour when we estimate the ridiculously over-stated effects of criticism on the health of Keats.

He left school at fifteen, and there existed evidence in the shape of many translations and exercises to prove he was by no means slow or behind hand in his Latin studies, although it has been usual to repeat the foolish assertion that his classic primers were Tooke's Pantheon, and Lempriere's Dictionary. Of all the circumstances in the youth of Keats, the most fortunate, almost the only fortunate one was his ignorance of Greek. Had he gone into the originals of Homer and Æschylus, and not completely and wholly mastered and made his own of them,

11

come out at the other side," so to say, and regained his independence, we would certainly never have had either Endymion or Hyperion, those “imperfect,” and "very defective ” works full to overflow of bravery and youthhood, attic and yet modern, Greek and yet not Greek, but John Keats, instinct with the spirit and the odour of Greek mythos and poetry, and yet much wanting in resemblance to the body. We ought to be grateful to Providence that Keats was somewhat behind Shakspeare, who had “ little Latin and less Greek,” in as much as he had no Greek at all. Had he toyed with it, or affected it, or even mastered it to the usual extent, he would have been subjugated, would have produced things resembling those of old, more faultless than those he did, but utterly worthless, like the lean-sided Spanish translations of Lockhart or the Satire of Gifford, imitated from Persius, not poetry, but mere journey - work. Trash, indeed, it is not possible to suppose him writing; but it is as impossible to imagine him writing exactly as he did, with the great originals filling his memory like a tidal sea of melody; and instead of the revitalized spirit, we would most probably have had only a phantasmal body

Such as we have described being the active and energetic nature of the boy, we are not surprised to learn that he wrote no verses, nor thought of doing so, till much after his school days. The reading of Spenser in 1812 affected him like electricity, and from that time his ambition gravitated and settled towards poetry. This

« AnteriorContinuar »