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(as Milton says of Eve after she had eaten the apple), “That's the being to whom I bend,' said he; alluding to the bending of the other figures in the picture, and contrasting Voltaire with our Saviour, and his own adoration with that of the crowd.”
Notwithstanding the general vagueness or indifference of his mind in religious matters, Keats seems to have been at most times a believer in the immortality of the soul. Following that phrase of his already quoted (from a letter to Bailey, November 1817) “Oh for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts !” he proceeds: "It is 'a vision in the form of youth,' a shadow of reality to
And this consideration has further convinced me —for it has come as auxiliary to another favourite speculation of mine—that we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we call happiness on earth repeated in a finer tone. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger, as you do, after truth. Adam's dream will do here: and seems to be a conviction that imagination, and its empyreal reflexion, is the same as human life, and its spiritual repetition." This allusion to "Adam's dream” refers back to a fine phrase which had occurred shortly before in the same letter—"Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream; he awoke, and found it truth.” In a letter written to George Keats and his wife, shortly after the death of Tom, comes a very positive assertion“ I have a firm belief in immortality, and so had Tom." This firm belief, however, must certainly have faltered later on; for, as we have already seen, one of Keats's
letters to Miss Brawne, written in 1820, contains the phrase "I long to believe in immortality.” The reader may also refer to the letter to Armitage Brown, September 1820, extracted in a previous page. Of superstitious feeling I observe only one instance in Keats. After Tom's death, a white rabbit appeared in the garden of Mr. Dilke, and was shot by him : Keats would have it that this rabbit was the spirit of Tom, and he persisted in the fancy with not a little earnestness.
Of Keats's fondness for wine-his appreciation of it as a flavour grateful to the palate, and to the abstract sense of enjoyment—there are numerous traces throughout his writings. We all remember the famous lines in his “Ode to a Nightingale"
“ Oh for a draught of vintage that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delvèd earth, • •
lines which seem a little forced into their context, and of which the only tangible meaning there is that the luxury and dreamy inspiration of wine-drinking would relieve the poet's mind from the dull and painful realities of life, and assist his imagination into the dim vocal haunts of the nightingale. There is also in " Lamia” a conspicuous passage celebrating “The happy vintage-merry wine, sweet wine.” On claret-as to which we have heard the evidence of Haydon--there is a long tirade in a letter addressed to George Keats and his wife in February 1819. I give it in a condensed form :
“I never drink above three glasses of wine, and never any spirits and water. How I like claret! When I can get claret, I must drink it. 'Tis the only palate affair that I am at all sensual in. It fills one's mouth with a gushing freshness—then goes down cool and feverless : then you do not feel it quarrelling with one's liver. ... Other wines of a heavy and spirituous nature transform a man into a Silenus: this makes him a Hermes, and gives a woman the soul and immortality of an Ariadne.
I said this same claret is the only palate-passion I have: I forgot game. I must plead guilty to the breast of a partridge, the back of a hare, the backbone of a grouse, the wing and side of a pheasant, and a woodcock passim."
At a rather later date, October 1819, Keats had “left off animal food, that my brains may never henceforth be in a greater mist than is theirs by nature.” But I presume this form of abstinence did not last long.
I have now gone through the principal points which appear to me to identify Keats as a man, and to throw light upon his character and habits. He entered on life high-spirited, ardent, impulsive, vehement; with plenty of self-confidence, ballasted with a large capacity (though he did not always exercise it to a practical result) for self-criticism; longing to be a poet, and firmly believing that he could and would be one; resolute to be a manunselfish, kindly, and generous. But, though kindly, he was irritable; though unselfish and generous, wilful and suspicious. An affront was what he would not bear; and, when he found himself affronted in a form—that of press ridicule and detraction—which could not be resented in
br readily retaliated in any way, it is abundantly
that the indignity preyed upon his mind and vpirits, and contributed to embitter the days cut short by disease, the messenger of despair to that passionate love which had become the single intense interest of his life. The single intense interest, along with poetry—both of them hurrying without fruition to the grave. Keats seems to me to have been naturally a man of complex character, many-mooded, with a tendency to perverse self-conflict. The circumstances of his brief career-his poetic ambition, his want of any definite employment, his association with men of literary occupation or taste whom he only half approved, the critical venom poured forth against him, his love thwarted by a mortal malady—all these things tended to bring out the unruly or morbid, and to deplete the many fine and solid, elements in his nature. With the personal character of Keats, as with his writings, we may perhaps deal most fairly by saying that his outburst and his reserve of faculty were such that, in the narrow space allotted to him, youth had not advanced far enough to disentangle the rich and various material. But his latest years, which enabled his poetry to find full and deathless voice, were so loaded with suffering and perturbation as to leave the character less lucidly and harmoniously developed than even in the days of adoles
From “Endymion” to “Lamia" and the “ Eve of St. Mark,” we have, in poetry, advanced greatly towards the radiant meridian : in life, from 1818 to 1821, we have receded to a baffling dusk.
E have seen what John Keats did in the shifting V scene of the world, and in the high arena of poesy; we have seen what were the qualities of character and of mind which enabled him to bear his part in each. His work as a poet is to us the thing of primary importance: and it remains for us to consider what this poetic work amounts to in essence and in detail. The critic who is a critic—and not a Quarterly or a Blackwood reviewer or lampooner—is well aware of the disproportion between his power of estimation, and the demand which such a genius as that of Keats, and such work as the maturest which he produced, make upon the estimating faculty. But this consideration cannot be allowed to operate beyond a certain point: the estimate has to be given-and given candidly and distinctly, however imperfectly. I shall therefore proceed to express my real opinion of Keats's poems, whether an admiring opinion or otherwise; and shall write without reiterating—what I may nevertheless feel—a sense of the presumption involved in such a process.
I shall in the main, as in previous chapters, follow the chronological order of the poems,