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“The savage criticism on his 'Endymion' which appeared in The Quarterly Review produced the most violent effect on his susceptible mind. The agitation thus originated ended in the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs. A rapid consumption ensued, and the succeeding acknowledgments from more candid critics of the true greatness of his powers were ineffectual to heal the wound thus wantonly inflicted. . . . Miserable man! you, one of the meanest, have wantonly defaced one of the noblest specimens of the workmanship of God. Nor shall it be your excuse that, murderer as you are, you have spoken daggers but used none.'
Thus far we have found no strong evidence (only assertions) that Keats took greatly to heart the attacks upon him, whether in the Quarterly or in Blackwood. Shelley seems to be the principal authority, and Shelley, unless founding upon some adequate information, is next to no authority at all. He had left England in March 1818, five months before the earlier-printed in August, of these spiteful articles. Were there nothing further, we should be more than well pleased to rally to the opinion of Lord Houghton, who came to the conclusion that the idea of Keats's extreme sensitiveness to criticism was a positive delusion—that he paid little heed to it, and pursued his own course much as if no reviewer had tried to be provoking. But there is, in fact, a direct witness of high importance—Haydon. Haydon knew Keats very intimately, and saw a great deal of him ; he admired and loved him, and had a vigorous, discerning insight into character and habit of mind, such as makes his observa
tions about all sorts of men substantial testimony and first-rate reading. He took forcible views of many things, and sometimes exaggerated views : but, when he attributed to Keats a particular mood of feeling, I should find it very difficult to think that he was either unfairly biassed or widely mistaken. In his reminiscences proper to the year 1817-18 occurs the following passage :
" The assaults on Hunt in Blackwood at this time, under the signature of Z, were incessant. Who Z was nobody knew, but I myself strongly suspect him to have been Terry the actor. Leigh Hunt had exasperated Terry by neglecting to notice his theatrical efforts. Terry was a friend of Sir Walter's, shared keenly his political hatreds, and was also most intimate with the Blackwood party, which had begun a course of attacks on all who showed the least liberalism of thinking, or who were praised by or known to The Examiner. Hunt had addressed a sonnet to me. This was enough : we were taken to be of the same clique of rebels, rascals, and reformers, who were supposed to support that production of so much power and talent. On Keats the effect was melancholy. He became morbid and silent; would call and sit whilst I was painting, for hours, without speaking a word.”
This counts for something-not very much. But another passage forming an entry in Haydon's diary, written on March 29, 1821, perhaps as soon as he had heard of Keats's death, carries the matter much further
“He began life full of hopes, fiery, impetuous, and ungovernable, expecting the world to fall at once beneath his powers. Poor fellow ! his genius had no sooner begun to bud than hatred and malice spat their poison on its leaves, and, sensitive and young, it shrivelled beneath their effusions. Unable to bear the sneers of ignorance or the attacks of envy, not having strength of mind enough to buckle himself together like a porcupine and present nothing but his prickles to his enemies, he began to despond, and few to dissipation as a relief, which, after a temporary elevation of spirits, plunged him into deeper despondency than ever. For six weeks he was scarcely sober, and (to show what a man does to gratify his appetites when once they get the better of him) once covered his tongue and throat as far as he could reach with cayenne pepper in order to appreciate the 'delicious coldness' of claret in all its glory '-his own expression.”
Immediately afterwards, April 21, 1821, Haydon wrote a letter to Miss Mitford, repeating, with some verbal variations, what is said above, and adding several other particulars concerning Keats. The opening phrase runs thus : Keats was a victim to personal abuse, and want of nerve to bear it. Ought he to have sunk in that way because a few quizzers told him that he was an apothecary's apprentice?” And further on-“I remonstrated on his absurd dissipation, but to no purpose.” The reader will observe that this dissipation, six weeks of insobriety, is alleged to have occurred after Keats
“Coolness ” (which seems to be the right word) in the letter to Miss Mitford.
“began to despond." The precise time when he began to despond is not defined, but we may suppose it to have been in the late autumn of 1818. If so, it was much about the same period when he first made Miss Brawne's acquaintance.
It is true that Mr. Cowden Clarke, when he published certain “Recollections” in The Gentleman's Msagazine in 1874, strongly contested these statements of Haydon's ; he disbelieved the cayenne pepper and the dissipation, and had “never perceived in Keats even 'a tendency to imprudent indulgence.” The “Recollections” were afterwards reproduced as a volume, and in the volume the confutation of Haydon disappeared; whether because Clarke had eventually changed his opinion, or for what other reason, I am unable to say. Anyhow, Haydon's evidence remains; it relates to a period of Keats's life when Haydon no doubt saw him much oftener than Clarke did, and we must observe that he refers to “Keats's own expression ” as to the claret ensuing after the cayenne pepper, and affirms that he himself remonstrated in vain against the “dissipation,” which means apparently excess in drinking alone.
To advert to what Lord Byron wrote about Keats as having been killed by The Quarterly Review is hardly worth while. His first reference to the subject is in a letter to Mr. Murray (publisher of The Quarterly) dated April 26, 1821. -- In this he expressly names Shelley as his informant, and with Shelley as an authority for the allegation I have already dealt.
There are two writings of Leigh Hunt in which the question of Keats and his critics is touched upon. The
first is the review, August 1820, of the “Lamia” volume. In speaking of the “Ode to a Nightingale” he says
“The poem will be the more striking to the reader when he understands, what we take a friend's liberty in telling him, that the author's powerful mind has for some time past been inhabiting a sickened and shaken body; and I that in the meanwhile it has had to contend with feelings that make a fine nature ache for its species, even when it would disdain to do so for itself—we mean critical malignity, that unhappy envy which would wreak its own tortures upon others, especially upon those that really feel for it already."
Hunt's posthumous Memoir of Keats was first published in 1828. He refers to the attack in Blackwood upon himself and upon Keats, and says:
"I little suspected, as I did afterwards, that the hunters had struck him; that a delicate organization, which already anticipated a premature death, made him feel his ambition thwarted by these fellows; and that the very impatience of being impatient was resented by him and preyed on his mind.” Hunt also says regarding Byron—“I told him he was mistaken in attributing Keats's death to the critics, though they had perhaps hastened and certainly embittered it."
Another item of evidence may be cited. It is from a letter written by George Keats to Mr. Dilke in April 1824, and refers to the insolences of Blackwood's Magazine. George, it will be remembered, was already out of Englar.d before the articles appeared in Blackwood