Imágenes de páginas

again without doing anything for his brother's relief or convenience. He took with him £700, some substantial part of which appears to have been the property of John, absolutely or contingently; and he undertook to remit shortly to his brother £200, to be raised by the sale of a boat which he owned in America ; but months passed, and the £200 never came, no purchaser for the boat being procurable. Out of the £1,100 which Tom Keats had left, George received £440, John hardly more than £200, George thus repaying himself some money which had been previously advanced for John's professional education. For all this he has been very severely censured, Mr. Brown being among his sternest and most persistent assailants. It must seemingly have been to George Keats, and yet not to him exclusively, that Colonel Finch referred in the letter which reached Shelley's eyes, saying that John had been “infamously treated by the very persons whom his generosity had rescued from want and woe ;” and Shelley re-enforced this accusation in his preface to “Adonais "_"hooted from the stage of life, no less by those on whom he had wasted the promise of his genius than those on whom he had lavished his fortune and his care." From these painful charges George Keats eventually vindicated himself with warmth of feeling, and with so much solidity of demonstration as availed to convince Mr. Dilke, and also Mr. Abbey. Who were the other offenders glanced at by Colonel Finch, as also in one of Severn's letters, I have no distinct idea.



ROM this point forwards nothing but misery remains

to be recorded of John Keats. The narrative becomes depressing to write and depressing to read, The sensation is like that of being confined in a dark vault at noonday. One knows, indeed, that the sun of the poet's genius is blazing outside, and that, on emerging from the vault, we shall be restored to light and warmth; but the atmosphere within is not the less dark and laden, nor the shades the less murky. In tedious wretchedness, racked and dogged with the pang of body and soul, exasperated and protesting, raging now, and now ground down into patience and acceptance, Keats gropes through the valley of the shadow of death.

Before detailing the facts, we must glance for a minute at the position. Keats had a passionate ambition and a passionate love the ambition to be a poet, the love of Fanny Brawne At the beginning of 1820, he was conscious of his authentic vocation as a poet, and conscious also that this vocation, though recognized in a small and to some extent an influential circle, was publicly denied and ridiculed; his portion was the hiss

[merged small][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

of the viper and the gander, the hooting of the impostor and the owl. His forthcoming volume was certain to share the same fate; he knew its claims would be perversely resisted and cruelly repudiated. If he could make no serious impression as a poet, not only was his leading ambition thwarted, but he would also be impeded in getting any other and more paying literary work to do-regular profession or employment he had none. He was at best a poor man, and, for the while, almost bereft of any command of funds. So long as this state of things, or anything like it, continued, he would be unable to marry the woman of his heart. While sickness kept him a prisoner, he was torn by ideas of her volatility and fickleness. Disease was sapping his vitals, pain wrung him, Death beckoned him with finger more and more imperative. Poetic fame became the vision of Tantalus, and love the clasp of Ixion.

Such was the life, or such the incipient death, of Keats, in the last twelvemonth of his brief existence.

For half a year prior to February 1820 he had been unrestful and cheerless. Either that gloom overspread me,” so he wrote to James Rice, “or I was suffering under some passionate feeling, or, if I turned to versify, that exacerbated the poison of either sensation.” He began taking laudanum at times, but was induced by Brown, towards the end of 1819, to promise to give up this insidious practice. Then came the crash: it was at Hampstead, on the night of the 3rd of February.

“One night, about eleven o'clock," I quote the words of Lord Houghton, which have become classical, “Keats returned home' in a state of strange physical excitement; it might have appeared, to those who did not know him, one of fierce intoxication. He told his friend (Brown) he had been outside the stage-coach, had received a severe chill, was a little fevered; but added: 'I don't feel it now.' He was easily persuaded to go to bed; and, as he leapt into the cold sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and said: "That is blood from my mouth. Bring me the candle: let me see this blood.' He gazed steadfastly some moments at the ruddy stain, and then, looking in his friend's face with an expression of sudden calmness never to be forgotten, said: 'I know the colour of that blood-it is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in that colour. That drop is my death-warrant; I must die.'”

A surgeon arrived shortly, bled Keats, and pronounced the rupture to be unimportant, but the patient was not satisfied. He wrote to Miss Brawne some few days afterwards, "So violent a rush of blood came to my lungs that I felt nearly suffocated.” By the 6th of the month, however, he was already better, and he then said

[ocr errors]

* This passage is taken from Lord Houghton's “Life, &c., of Keats,” first published in 1848, and by “home” he certainly means, Wentworth Place, Hampstead. Yet in his Aldine Edition of Keats, his lordship says that the poet was at that time, very much against Mr. Brown's desire and advice, living alone in London." This latter statement may possibly be correct-I question it. The passage, as written by Lord Houghton, is condensed from the narrative of Brown. The latter is given verbatim in Mr. Colvin's “Keats,” and is, of course, the more important and interesting of the two. I abstain from quoting it, solely out of regard to Mr. Colvin's rights of priority.

in a letter to his sister: “From imprudently leaving off my great-coat in the thaw, I caught cold, which flew to my lungs.” Later on he suffered from palpitation of the heart; but was so far recovered by the 25th of March as to be able to go to town to the exhibition of Haydon's picture, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, and early in April he could take a walk of five miles. In March he had written that he was then picking up flesh, and, if he could avoid inflammation for six weeks, might yet do well; in April his doctor assured him that his only malady was nervous irritability and general weakness, caused by anxiety and by the excitement of poetry. At an untoward time for his health, about the first week in May, Keats was obliged to quit his residence in Hampstead; as Brown was then leaving for Scotland, and, according to his wont, let the house. Keats accordingly went to live in Wesleyan Place, Kentish Town. A letter which he wrote just before his departure speaks of his uncertain outlook; he might be off to South America, or, more likely, embarking as surgeon on a vessel trading to the East Indies. This latter idea had been in his mind for about a year past, off and on. What he could have contemplated doing in South America is by no means apparent. On the 7th of May Keats parted at Gravesend from Brown, and they never met again. The hand with which he grasped Brown's, and which he had of old “clenched against Hammond's," was now, according to his own words, “that of a man of fifty.”

Things had thus gone .on pretty well with Keats’s. health since he first began to rally from the bloodspitting attack of the 3rd of February; but this was not

« AnteriorContinuar »