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N all important respects I leave this brief “Life of
Keats” to speak for itself. There is only one point which I feel it needful to dwell upon. In the summer of 1886 I was invited to undertake a life of Keats for the present series, and I assented. Some while afterwards it was publicly announced that a life of Keats, which had been begun by Mr. Sidney Colvin long before for a different series, would be published at an early date. read up my materials, began in March 1887 the writing of my book, finished it on June 3rd, and handed it over to the editor. On June roth Mr. Colvin's volume was published. I at once read it, and formed a high opinion of its merits, and I found in it some new details which could not properly be ignored by any succeeding biographer of the poet. I therefore got my MS. back, and inserted here and there such items of fresh information as were really needful for the true presentment of my subject-matter. In justice both to Mr. Colvin and to myself I drew upon his pages for only a minimum, not a maximum, of the facts which they embody; and in all matters of opinion and criticism I left my MS. exactly as it stood. The reader will thus understand that the present "Life of Keats” is, in planning, structure, execution, and estimate, entirely independent of Mr. Colvin's; but that I have ultimately had the advantage of consulting Mr. Colvin's book as one of my various sources of information—the latest and within its own lines the completest of all.
LIFE OF KEATS.
TRUISM must do duty as my first sentence
There are long lives, and there are eventful lives : there are also short lives, and uneventful ones. Keats's life was both short and uneventful. To the differing classes of lives different modes of treatment may properly be applied by the biographer. In the case of a writer whose life was both long and eventful, I might feel disposed to carry the whole narrative forward pari passu, and to exhibit in one panorama the outward and the inward career, the incidents and the product, the doings and environment, and the writings, acting and re-acting upon one another. In the instance of Keats this does not appear to me to be the most fitting method. It may be more appropriate to apportion his Life into two sections: and to treat firstly of his general course from the cradle to the grave, and secondly of his performances in literature. The two things will necessarily overlap to some extent, but I shall keep them apart so far as may be convenient. When we have seen what he did and what he wrote, we shall be prepared to enter upon some analysis of his character and personality. This will form my third section; and in a fourth I shall endeavour to estimate the quality and value of his writings, in particular and in general. Thus I address myself in the first instance to a narrative of the outer facts of his life.
John Keats came of undistinguished parentage. No biographer carries his pedigree further than his maternal grandfather, or alleges that there was any trace, however faint or remote, of ancestral eminence. The maternal grandfather was a Mr. Jennings, who kept a large liverystable, called the Swan and Hoop, in the Pavement, Moorfields, London, opposite the entrance to Finsbury Circus. The principal stableman or assistant in the business was named Thornas Keats, of Devonshire or Cornish parentage. He was a well-conducted, sensible, good. looking little man, and won the favour of Jennings’s. daughter, named Frances or Fanny: they married, and this rather considerable rise in his fortunes left Keats unassuming and manly as before. He appears to have been a natural gentleman. Jennings was a prosperous tradesman, and might have died rich (his death took place in 1805) but for easy-going good-nature tending to the gullible. Mrs. Keats seems to have been in character less uniform and single-minded than her husband. She is described as passionately fond of amusement, prodigal, dotingly attached to her children, more especially John, much beloved by them in return, sensible, and at the same time saturnine in demeanour: a personable tall woman with a large oval face. Her pleasure-seeking tendency probably led her into some imprudences, for her first baby, John, was a seven months' child.
John Keats was born at the Moorfields place of business on the 31st of October 1795. This date of birth is established by the register of baptisms at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate: the date usually assigned, the 29th of October, appears to be inaccurate, though Keats himself, and others of the family, believed in it. There were three other children of the marriage-or four if we reckon a a son who died in infancy: George, Thomas, and lastly Fanny, born in March 1803. An anecdote is told of John when in the fifth year of his age, purporting to show forth the depth of his childish affection for his mother. It is said that she then lay seriously ill; and John stood sentinel at her chamber-door, holding an old sword which he had picked up about the premises, and he remained there for hours to prevent her being disturbed. One may fear, however, that this anecdote has taken an ideal colouring through the lens of a partial biographer. The painter Benjamin Robert Haydon-who, as we shall see in the sequel, was extremely well acquainted with John Keats, and who heard the story from his brother Thomas -records it thus: “He was, when an infant, a most violent and ungovernable child. At five years of age or thereabouts he once got hold of a naked sword, and, shutting the door, swore nobody should go out. His mother wanted to do so; but he threatened her so furiously she began to cry, and was obliged to wait till somebody, through the window, saw her position, and came to her rescue.' It can scarcely be supposed that there were two different occasions when the quinquennial John Keats superintended his mother and her belongings with a naked sword-once in ardent and self-oblivious