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MUST next proceed to offer some account of Keats's
person, character, and turn of mind. As I have already said, Keats was a very small man, barely more than five feet in height. He was called “Little Keats” by his surgical fellow-students. Archdeacon Bailey has left a good description of him in brief:
" There was in the character of his countenance the ffemineity which Coleridge thought to be the mental constitution of true genius. His hair was beautiful, and, if you placed your hand upon his head, the curls fell round it like a rich plumage. I do not particularly remember the thickness of the upper lip so generally described ; but the mouth was too wide, and out of harmony with the rest of his face, which had a peculiar sweetness of expression, with a character of mature thought, and an almost painful sense of suffering.”
Leigh Hunt should also be heard :
“His lower limbs were small in comparison with the upper, but neat and well-turned.
His shoulders were
very broad for his size.
He had a face in which energy and sensibility were remarkably mixed up-an eager power checked and made impatient by ill-health. Every feature was at once strongly cut and delicately alive. If there was any faulty expression, it was in the mouth, which was not without something of a character of pugnacity. His face was rather long than otherwise. The upper lip projected a little over the under ; the chin was bold, the cheeks sunken ; the eyes mellow and glowing-large, dark, and sensitive. At the recital of a noble action or a beautiful thought, they would suffuse: with tears, and his mouth trembled. In this there was ill-health as well as imagination, for he did not like these betrayals of emotion; and he had great personal as well as moral courage. His hair, of a brown colour, was fine, and hung in natural ringlets. The head was a puzzle for the phrenologists, being remarkably small in the skull; a singularity which he had in common with Byron and Shelley, whose hats I could not get on.
Keats was sensible of the disproportion above noticed between his. upper and lower extremities; and he would look at his band, which was faded, and swollen in the veins, and say it was the hand of a man of fifty.”
Cowden Clarke confirms Hunt in stating that Keats's hair was brown, and he assigns the same colour, or dark hazel, to his eyes : confuting the “auburn” and “blue of which Mrs. Procter had spoken. It is rather remarkable that, while Hunt speaks of the projection of the. upper lip—a detail which is fully verified in a charcoal drawing by Severn-Lord Houghton observes upon “the.
undue prominence of the lower lip,” which point I cannot trace clearly in any one of the portraits. Keats himself, in one of his love-letters (August 1819), says, “I do not think myself a fright.” According to Clarke, John Keats was the only one of the family who resembled the father in person and feature, while the other three resembled the mother. George Keats does not wholly coincide in this, for he says, "My mother resembled John very much in the face;" at the same time he would not have been qualified to deny a likeness to the father, of whom he remembered nothing except that he had dark hair. The lady who saw Keats's hair and eyes of the wrong colour saw at any rate his face to some effect, having left it recorded thus: “His countenance lives in my mind as one of singular beauty and brightness; it had an expression as if he had been looking on some glorious sight.” In a like spirit, Haydon speaks of Keats as having “an eye that had an inward look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions.” His voice was deep and grave.
Let us now turn to the portraits, which are as numerous and as good as could fairly be expected under the circumstances.
The earliest in date, and certainly one of the best from an art point of view, is a sketch in profile done by Haydon preparatory to introducing Keats's head into the picture of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. The sketch dates in November 1816, just after Keats had come of age. The picture is in Philadelphia, and I cannot speak of the head as it appears there. In the sketch we see abundant wavy hair; a forehead and nose sloping forward
to the nasal tip in a nearly uniform curve; a dark, set, speaking eye; a mouth tolerably well moulded, the upper lip being fully long enough, and noticeably overhanging the lower lip, upon which the chin—large, full, and rounded-closely impinges. The whole face partakes of the Raphaelesque cast of physiognomy. At some time, which may have been the autumn of 1817, some one, anost probably Haydon, took a mask of the face of Keats. In respect of actual form, this is necessarily the final test of what the poet was like—but masks are often only partially true to the impression of a face. This mask confirms Haydon's sketch markedly; allowing only for the points that Haydon has rather emphasized the length of the nose, and attenuated (so far as one can judge from a profile) its thickness, and has given very much more of the overhanging of the upper lip—but this last would, by the very conditions of mask-taking, be there reduced to a minimum. On the whole we may say that, after considering reciprocally Haydon's sketch and the mask, we know very adequately what Keats's face was he had ample reason for acquitting himself of being “a fright.” We come still closer to a firm conclusion upon taking into account, along with these two records, two of the portraits left to us by Severn. One is a miniature, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1819, and which we may surmise to have been painted in that year, or late in 1818: the well-known likeness which represents Keats in three-quarters face, looking earnestly forwards, and resting his chin upon his left hand. Here the eyes are larger than in Haydon's sketch, and the upper lip shorter, while the forehead seems straighter ; but, as to those matters of lip and forehead, a profile tells the plainer tale. The whole aspect of the face is not greatly unlike Byron's. There is also the earlier charcoal drawing by Severn, the best of all for enabling us to judge of the beautiful rippling long hair; it is a profile, and extremely like Haydon's profile, except for the greater straightness of the forehead, and the decided smallness of the chin, points on which the mask shows conclusively that Haydon was in the right. Most touching of all as a reminiscence is the Indian-ink drawing which Severn made of his dying friend on "28 Jan. 1821, 3 o'clock morn;" as he lay asleep, with the death-damp on his dark hair. It exhibits the attenuation of disease, but without absolute painfulness, and produces, fully as much as any of the other portraits, the impression of a fine and distinguished mould of face. Severn left yet other likenesses of Keats-posthumous, and of inferior interest. There is moreover a chalk drawing by the painter Hilton, who used to meet Keats at the house. of the publisher Mr. Taylor. It has an artificial air, and conveys a notion of the general character of the face different from the other records, but may assist us: towards estimating what Keats was like about, or very soon before, the commencement of his fatal illness. Lastly, though the list of extant portraits is not even thus exhausted, I mention the medallion by Girometti, which is to all appearance a posthumous performance. Its lines correspond pretty well with the profile sketch by Haydon, while in character it assimilates more to Hilton's drawing. To me it seems of very little importance as a document, but Hamilton Reynolds thought it the best