« AnteriorContinuar »
accidental literary spirit of his own time. I had also to exhibit the moral peculiarities of Keats as the effects of a strong will, passionate temperament, indomitable courage, and a somewhat contemptuous disregard of other men—to represent him as unflinchingly meeting all criticism of his writings, and caring for the Article, which was supposed to have had such homicidal success, just so far as it was an evidence of the little power he had as yet acquired over the sympathies of mankind, and no more. I had to make prominent the brave front he opposed to poverty and pain—to show, how love of pleasure was in him continually subordinate to higher aspirations, notwithstanding the sharp zest of enjoyment which his mercurial nature conferred on him; and above all, I had to illustrate how little he abused his full possession of that imaginative faculty, which enables the poet to vivify the phantoms of the hour, and to purify the objects of sense, beyond what the moralist may sanction, or the mere practical man can understand.
I thus came to the conclusion, that it was best to act simply as editor of the Life which was, as it were, already written, I had not the right, which many men yet living might claim from personal knowledge, of analyzing motives of action and explaining courses of conduct; I could tell no more than was told to me, and that I have done as faithfully as I was able: and I now leave the result in the hands of the few whose habits of thought incline them to such subjects, not, indeed, in the hope that their task will be as agreeable as mine has been, but in the belief, that they will find in it much that is not mine to appreciate and enjoy: a previous admiration of the works of Keats which have been already published is the test of their authority to approve or condemn these supplementary memorials, and I admit no other.
LIFE AND LETTERS OF JOHN KEATS.
To the Poet, if to any man, it may justly be conceded to be estimated by what he has written rather than by what he has done, and to be judged by the productions of his genius rather than by the circumstances of his outward life. For although the choice and treatment of a subject may enable us to contemplate the mind of the Historian, the Novelist, or the Philosopher, yet our observation will be more or less limited and obscured by the sequence of events, the forms of manners, or the exigencies of theory, and the personality of the writer must be frequently lost; while the Poet, if his utterances be deep and true, can hardly hide himself even beneath the epic or dramatic veil, and often makes of the rough public ear a confessional into which to pour the richest treasures and holiest secrets of his soul. His Life is in his writings, and his Poems are his works indeed.
The biography therefore of a poet can be little better than a comment on his Poems, even when itself of long duration, and checkered with strange and various adventures: but these pages concern one whose whole story may be summed up in the composition of three small volumes of verse, some earnest friendships, one passion, and a premature death. As men die, so they walk among posterity; and our impression of Keats can only be that of a noble nature perseveringly testing its own powers, of a manly heart bravely surmounting its first hard experience, and of an imagination ready to inundate the world, yet learning to flow within regulated channels, and abating its violence without lessening its strength. It is thus no more than the beginning of a Life which can here be written, and nothing but a conviction of the singularity and greatness of the fragment would justify any one in attempting to draw general attention to its shape and substance. The interest indeed of the Poems of Keats has already had much of a personal character: and his early end, like that of Chatterton, (of whom he ever speaks with a sort of prescient sympathy,) has, in some degree, stood him in stead of a fulfilled poetical existence. Ever improving in his art, he gave no reason to believe that his marvelous faculty had any thing in common with that lyrical facility which many men have manifested in boyhood or in youth, but which has grown torpid or disappeared altogether with the advance of mature life; in him no one doubts that a true genius was suddenly arrested, and they who will not allow him to have won his place in the first ranks of English poets will not deny the promise of his candidature. When a man has had a fair field of existence before him and free scope for the exhibition of his energies, it becomes a superfluous and generally an unprofitable task to collect together the unimportant incidents of his career and hoard up the scattered remnants of his mind, most of which he would probably have himself wished to be forgotten. But in the instance of Keats, it is a natural feeling in those who knew and loved, and not an extravagant one in those who merely admire him, to desire, as far as may be, to repair the injustice of destiny, and to glean whatever relics they may find of a harvest of which so few full sheaves were permitted to be garnered. The interest which attaches to the family of every remarkable individual has failed to discover in that of Keats any thing more than that the influences with which his childhood was surrounded were virtuous and honorable. His father, who was employed in the establishment of Mr. Jennings, the proprietor of large livery-stables on the Pavement in Moorfields, nearly opposite the entrance into Finsbury Circus, became his master's sonin-law, and is still remembered as a man of excellent natural