Imágenes de páginas

approached towards becoming a commercial success indeed would it be altogether easy to define the dat which Keats became a recognized and uncontested poet of high rank, and his works a solid property. His early death, at the beginning of 1821, must have formed a turning-point-not to speak of the favourable notice of “Endymion," and subordinately of the "Lamia" volume, which appeared in The Edinburgh Review, Jeffrey being the critic, in August 1820. Perhaps Jeffrey's praise may have facilitated an arrangement which Keats made in September 1820—the sale of the copyright of “Endymion” to Messrs Taylor and Hessey for $100; no second edition of the poem appeared, however, while he was alive. I should presume that, within five or six years after Keats's decease, ridicule and rancour were already much in the minority; and that, by some such date as 1835 to 1840, they had finally "hidden their diminished heads,” living only, with too persistent a life, in the retributive memory of men.

Some of the shorter poems in the “ Lamia" volume must receive brief mention here. The “Ode to Psyche” was written in February 1819, and was termed by Keats the first poem with which he had taken pains—“I have for the most part dashed off my lines in a hurry.” “To Autumn,” the “Ode on Melancholy," and the “ Ode on a Grecian Urn,” succeeded. The "Ode to a Nightingale” was composed at Hampstead in the spring of 1819 after breakfast, forming two or three hours' work: thus we see that the nocturnal imagery of the ode was a general or a particular reminiscence, not actual to the very moment of composition. This poem and the "Ode on a Grecian Urn” were recited by Keats to Haydon in a chaunting tone in Kilburn meadows, and were published in the serial entitled “ Annals of the Fine Arts." The urn thus immortalized may probably be one preserved in the garden of Holland House.

With the “ Lamia" volume we have come to the close of what Keats published during his lifetime. Something remains to be said of other writings of his—almost all of them earlier in date than the publication of that volume -which remained unprinted or uncollected at the time of his death.

In Feburary 1818 Keats, Leigh Hunt, and Shelley, undertook to write a sonnet each upon the river Nile. In order of merit, the three sonnets are the reverse of what one might have been willing to forecast. I at least am clearly of opinion that Hunt's sonnet is the best (though with a weak ending), Keats's the second, and Shelley's a decidedly bad third. The leading thought in each sonnet is characteristic of its author.// Keats adheres to the simple natural facts of the case, while Hunt and Shelley turn the Nile into a moral or intellectual symbol. Keats says essentially that to associate the Nile with ideas of antique desolation is but a delusion of ignorance, for this river is really rich and fresh like others. Hunt makes the Egyptian stream an emblem of history tending towards the progress of the individual and the race; while Shelley reads into the Nile a lesson of the good and the evil inhering in knowledge.

“The Eve of St. Mark”-a fragment which very few of Keats's completed poems can rival in point of artist-like feeling and writing—belongs to the years 1818-9. I find

nothing in print to account for his leaving it unfinished.

In May 1819 Keats had an idea of inventing a new structure of sonnet-rhyme; and he sent to his brother and sister-in-law a sonnet composed accordingly, beginning

“If by dull rhymes our English must be chained.”

He wrote: “I have been endeavouring to discover a better sonnet-stanza than we have. The legitimate does not suit the language well, from the pouncing rhymes. The other appears too elegiac, and the couplet at the end of it has seldom a pleasing effect. I do not pretend to have succeeded.” Keats's experiment reads agreeably. It comprises five rhymes altogether; the first rhyme being repeated thrice at arbitrary intervals; and the last rhyme twice in lines twelve and fourteen.

The tragedy of “ Otho the Great " was written by Keats (as already referred to) in July and August 1819, in co-operation with Armitage Brown. The diction of the play is, it would appear, Keats's entirely; whereas the invention and development of plot in the first four acts is wholly due to Brown. The two friends sat together; Brown described each successive scene, and Keats turned it into verse, without troubling his head as to the subject-matter for the scene next ensuing. When it came to the fifth act, however, Keats inquired what would be the conclusion of the play; and, not being satisfied with Brown's project which he deemed too humorous and too melodramatic, he both invented and



wrote a fifth act for himself. He felt sure that “Otho the Great a tolerable tragedy," and set his heart upon getting it acted-Kean was well inclined to take the principal character, Prince Ludolph ; and it became his greatest ambition to write fine plays. “Otho " was in fact accepted for Drury Lane Theatre, on the offer of Brown, who left Keats's authorship in the background; but, as both the writers were impatient of delay, Brown, in February 1820, took away the MS., and Covent Garden Theatre was thought of instead—without any practical result. As soon “ Otho” was finished, Brown suggested King Stephen as the subject of another drama; and Keats, without any further collaboration from his friend, composed the few scenes of it which remain. “One of my ambitions” (writes Keats to Bailey in August 1819), “is to make as great a revolution in modern dramatic writing as Kean has done in acting.”

The ballad "La Belle Dame sans Merci,” than which Keats did nothing more thrilling or more perfect, may perhaps have been written in the earlier half of 1819; it was published in 1820, in Hunt's Indicator for May Ioth, under the signature “ Caviare”; the same signature which was adopted for the sonnet, "A dream, after reading Dante's episode of Paolo and Francesca.” Keats may probably have meant to imply, in some bitterness of spirit, that his poems were “caviare to the general.” The title of this ballad was suggested to Keats by seeing it at the head of a translation from Alain Chartier in a copy of Chaucer. As to the “ Dream” sonnet he wrote in April 1819 :


“The 5th canto of Dante pleases me more and more ;: it is that one in which he meets with Paulo and Fran

I had passed many days in rather a low state of mind, and in the midst of them I dreamt of being in that region of Hell. The dream was one of the most delightful enjoyments I ever had in my life. I floated about the wheeling atmosphere, as it is described, with a beautiful figure, to whose lips mine were joined, it seemed for an age ; and in the midst of all this cold. and darkness I was warm. Ever-flowery tree-tops sprang up, and we rested on them, sometimes with the lightness of a cloud, till the wind blew us away again. I tried a sonnet on it; there are fourteen lines in it, but nothing of what I felt. Oh that I could dream it every night !”

The last long work which Keats undertook, and he wrote it with extreme facility, was “The Cap and Bells; or The Jealousies, a Fairy Tale,” in the Spenserian stanza. What remains is probably far less than Keats intended the tale to amount to, but it is enough to enable us to pronounce upon its merits. The poem was begun soon after Keats's first attack of blood-spitting in February 1820. It seems singular that under such depressing conditions he should have written in so frivolous and jaunty a spirit, and provoking that his last long work (the last, that is, if we except the recast of "Hyperion") should be about the most valueless which he produced, at any date after commencing upon "Endymion." This poem has been said to be written in the spirit of | Ariosto; a statement which, in justice to the brilliant Italian, cannot be admitted. It may well be, however,

« AnteriorContinuar »