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Full text of "John Keats Volume II"

PENCIL DRAWING OF KKATS BY CHAHLES BROWN 





JOHN KEATS 



BY 

AMY LOWELL 



WITH ILLUSTRATIONS 
VOLUME II 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 

gfc fctoertftoe $re0 Camtotoge 

1925 



CONTENTS 
VOLUME II 

Chapter VIII 
A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND. (June-August, 1818.) 3 

Chapter IX 
SORROW AND READJUSTMENT. (August, i8i8-January, 1819.) 73 

Chapter X 
SWIFT CURRENTS. (January-July, 1819.) 153 

Chapter XI 
A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW. (July-October, 1819.) 267 

Chapter XII 
ILLNESS. (October, i8i9-September, 1820.) 353 

Chapter XIII 
ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END. (September, i82o-February, 



APPENDIX A 

APPENDIX B 

APPENDIX C c.- 

APPENDIX D 



INDEX 6og 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 

VOLUME II 
PENCIL DRAWING OF KEATS BY CHARLES BROWN Frontispiece 

From a photograph of the original drawing. Reproduced by per- 
mission of the National Portrait Gallery ; London 

DRAWING FROM AN IMPRESSION OF A SEAL OWNED BY 
KEATS Title-page 

Author's Collection 

FACING PAGE 

TOM KEATS 74 

From an engraving of a water-colour sketch by Severn, in the pos- 
session of Miss Fanny Speed MacDonald, great grand-daughter 
of George Keats 

WENTWORTH PLACE 120 

From a photograph taken by Louis A. Holman t Esq. 

Two PAGES OF THE FIRST DRAFT OF THE EVE OF 

ST. ACNES 168 

From the original manuscript in the possession of the author 

PLAY BILL. KEATS WAS PRESENT ON THIS EVENING 218 

From the original in the possession of Louis A. Holman, Esq. 

SILHOUETTE OF KEATS. ATTRIBUTED TO SEVERN, BUT 
PROBABLY BY BROWN 268 

From the original in the possession of Mrs. Herbert L. Wild, 
grand-daughter of Joseph Severn 

SILHOUETTE OF KEATS BY BROWN 268 

From the original in the possession of the Keats Memorial House 
Association 

CHURCH AT SHANKLIN 284 

From an old print in the possession of the author 

PAGE OF A COPY OF LAMIA GIVEN BY KEATS TO B. DAVEN- 
PORT, ESQ. 4 2 4 

Author's Collection 



viii ILLUSTRATIONS 

TITLE-PAGE OF THE COPY OF LAMIA GIVEN BY KEATS 
TO FANNY BRAWNE 
Author's Collection 

SILHOUETTE OF KEATS BY MRS. LEIGH HUNT 436 

From a photograph in the possession of Louis A. Holman, Esq. 

KEATS'S PASSPORT TO ITALY (FIRST PAGE) 462 

From the original in the possession of Oliver R. Barrett, Esq. 

THE TOWERS. BEDHAMPTON. WHERE KEATS SPENT 
HIS LAST NIGHT IN ENGLAND 474 

From a photograph in the possession of Louis A. Holman, Esq. 

KEATS'S PASSPORT TO ITALY (SECOND PAGE) 486 

From the original in the possession of Oliver R. Barrett, Esq. 

KEATS'S LODGING IN THE PIAZZA DI SPAGNA, ROME 500 

From a photograph taken by Miss Margaret Shepard 



JOHN KEATS 

VOLUME II 



JOHN KEATS 




CHAPTER VIII 
A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 

THE first day's drive carried the travellers through 
Exeter to Honiton, from which place Keats sent a short 
note back to Mrs. Jeffrey by the returning chaise. In it, he 
told her that Tom had "borne his Journey thus far re- 
markably well." Thus far, but no farther. On reaching 
Bridport the next day, Tom had a particularly severe 
haemorrhage, which kept them prisoners in the inn there 
for some days. There is no means of knowing how long it 
was before Tom was able to resume the journey, for we 
have no letters between Keats's to Reynolds from Teign- 
mouth on May third, and one from Tom to the Miss 
Jeffreys written from Hampstead on May seventeenth, 
when they had apparently been back for some time. How- 
ever many the days were, they were terribly anxious and 
miserable ones for the two young fellows, caged up in a 
small town where they knew no single soul, with a strange 
doctor, and only such comforts as the Bull or the Green 
Lion (whichever inn they were at) could afford. At last, 
however, Tom was pronounced well enough to travel, and 
they started again, taking the journey by easy stages and, 
as far as we can judge, reaching Hampstead at the end of 
the fourth day. Tom's letter 1 to the Jeffrey girls, not before 
published, tells the story of the trip, and many other things 
of importance. It is too long and too discursive to print in 

1 Bemis Collection. 



4 JOHN KEATS 

full, some parts of it, however, must be quoted; for one 
reason, because they give such a vivid picture of the writer: 

"Hampstead Sunday. 

May 1818. 
MY DEAR MARYANN. 

We received your Mother's Letter by Mrs. Atkins which 
prevented my writing so soon as I intended that the Letter 
might accompany the Book John promised you, and be de- 
livered by Mrs. A. on her return. I thank you all for your 
kind solicitude, the rest of the journey pass'd off pretty 
well after we had left Bridport in Dorsetshire. I was very ill 
there and lost much blood we travell'd a hundred 
miles in the last two days. I found myself much better at 
the end of the journey than when I left Tartary alias 
Teignmouth the Doctor was surprised to see me looking 
so well, as were all my Friends they insisted that my 
illness was all mistaken Fancy and on this presumption 
excited me to laughing and merriment which has deranged 
me a little however it appears that confinement and low 
spirits have been my chief enemies, and I promise myself a 
gradual recovery this will be grateful news to you. Our 
leave-taking was more formal than it might have been : and 
at the time I cursed the Doctor, but now I think it better 
as it happen 'd I was at the Window to stop you as you 
return 'd from the Cottage, but you did not come our way 
it did not require John's assurance to convince me that 
you felt our departure ... I hope Mr. Stanbury &ct is 
elated to twenty Pounds a year and that Waltzing will be 
admitted to the Teignmouth and other Town and Country 
Ball rooms in Sarah's time . . . Convey my compliments to 
Miss Michell and thank her for the present remember 
me to Captain Tonkin and Mr. Bartlett if he should come 
your way in the Labyrinth of Teignmouth tell Captain 
T. if he goes on his projected Tour to Italy we may perhaps 
meet this leads me to a development of my plan which 
I am fond to think about if I should alter it. In [letter torn] 
weeks I shall be here alone and I hope well. John will have 
set out on his Northern Expedition George on this Western 
and I shall be preparing for mine to the South. John's will 
take four months at the end of that time he expects to 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 5 

have atchieved two thousand Miles mostly on Foot. 
George embarks for America. I shall either go by 
vessell to some port in the Adriatic or down the Rhine 
through Switzerland and the Alps into Italy most like the 
Town of Paiva [Pavia] there to remain untill I have 
acquired a stock of Knowledge and strength which will 
better enable me to bustle through the world. I am 
persuaded this is the best way of killing time now if I 
should go by vessell and the port of Plymouth has commu- 
nication with that part I will take Teignmouth in my way 
thither and see you Once again = it will be some atone- 
ment for the abuse I have lavished on your Native Town. 
Till then I will bid you farewell. My love to your Mother 
and Sister . . . 

Believe me Your Sincere Friend 
THOS. KEATS. 

P.S. George has been busily occupied in preparing for his 
Journey, they both desire their Love perhaps John will 
write = he is also very much engaged with his friends." 

This letter was posted on the following Tuesday. It is the 
postmark which has enabled me to give its exact date. 

We have observed before that Keats, on returning to 
London from any sojourn anywhere, was invariably "very 
much engaged with his friends." The effect of being again 
among them this time was to make the mooted Scotch tour 
with Brown a settled fact. The life of learning withdrawn 
from the world could be put off for a bit. Intimate and 
sensible companionship was what he needed, and something 
a little exciting and unusual to take his mind off the 
difficulties which awaited him. First of these, of course, 
was Tom's desperate state of health. If Tom, with the 
usual optimism of the consumptive, thought himself 
capable of recovery, and even played with the idea of a 
solitary journey to Italy, John, with his medical training, 
can scarcely have been so deceived as to his brother's real 
condition. That he did not realize the full gravity of the 



6 JOHN KEATS 

situation seems evident, but that he could find any real 
hope in it cannot be believed. 

The second difficulty which Keats had to meet was the 
parting with George. To emigrate to America, in those 
days, meant virtually giving up one's friends and family 
for life; at least, if one were neither rich enough nor idle 
enough to snap one's fingers at the long and expensive 
ocean voyage which a trip to Europe entailed. When, 
added to this, the goal of the journey was one of the distant 
settlements being established in what was at that period 
the far West, then indeed were the travellers cut off from 
any but the most meagre intercourse with Europe. 

George had found his opportunity, or thought he had, in 
deciding to take up an allotment of land either very near, 
or actually a part of, a settlement just being made by a cer- 
tain Morris Birkbeck. Birkbeck was a Quaker, who had 
travelled in America and written a book on his experiences. 
He was known to backwoodsmen as the "Emperor of the 
Prairies," because he had bought sixteen thousand acres of 
public land at one purchase. This land he proposed to sell 
in parcels to prospective farmers, and his golden dreams for 
the success of his undertaking were duly and enticingly set 
forth in another small volume, Letters from Illinois , pub- 
lished in the same year, 1818. George Keats, having 
succeeded in getting from Abbey as much of his share of 
the money due him by inheritance as was free from legal re- 
strictions, was preparing to sink it all in this American 
venture. How he expected to manage when he got there, is 
not clear. Trained to the business of selling tea and coffee 
wholesale, he had no other training whatever, knew nothing 
of agriculture, had no knowledge of horseflesh, no experi- 
ence of woodcraft, was in fact as perfectly unfitted for life 
in a pioneer state as could well be. He had, however, 
determined courage, high hopes, and Georgiana Wylie; for, 
with remarkable insight, or with colossal ignorance of the 
conditions she would be called upon to face, Mrs. Wylie had 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 7 

consented to an immediate marriage between her sixteen- 
year-old daughter and George, just turned twenty-one, and 
the prompt departure of the young couple for their distant 
bourne. That Georgiana Wylie should be willing to go and 
her mother to let her, was a matter of the utmost astonish- 
ment to the Keats circle. Mrs. Reynolds took no pains to 
conceal her surprise at such extraordinary imprudence. 
Many years later, George Keats, referring to this, wrote to 
Dilke: 1 

"Altogether we have been as happy as mortals usually 
are, had Mrs. Wylie been as wise as Mrs. R[eynolds] she 
would have crushed in the bud a reasonable portion of 
human happiness, and there would not have been any 
little Keatses." 

Dilke was the only one of his friends who thought George's 
American scheme right and proper, but George had abun- 
dant support from John, who backed him up to the last 
inch. 

The marriage took place at the end of May. On May 
twenty-eighth, if we can take Keats literally when, writing 
to the Miss Jeffreys on June fourth, he says: "George took 
unto himself a Wife a Week ago." 

The weeks preceding the wedding were hard ones for 
Keats. He was ill, as a recently discovered note proves, 
and it seems more than likely that the illness, of which 
we know so well the cause, was another sore throat. The 
note, 2 which is postmarked "2 o'Clock. 6 JN." is short 
and to the point: 



DEAR SEVERN, 
The Doctor says I mustn't go out. I wish such a delicious 
fate would put me in cue to entertain you with a Sonnet 
or a Poem. I am, 

Yours ever 

JOHN KEATS. " 

1 Original letter in Author's Collection. 

1 Owned by Mrs. Roland Gage Hopkins of Brookline, Mass. 



8 JOHN KEATS 

It did not need illness to depress him, however, George's 
going was enough. George's project, as detailed by John to 
Bailey, seems madder than ever. George, he says, has been 
out of employ for some time, and he has now decided "to 
emigrate to the back Settlements of America, become 
Farmer and work with his own hands, after purchasing 14 
hundred Acres of the American Government." This enter- 
prising and supremely ridiculous plan has, Keats goes on, 
his "entire Consent." Indeed Keats "would sooner he 
should till the ground than bow to a customer. There is no 
choice with him: he could not bring himself to the latter." 

Here is the old nonsensical "pride" of the year before 
cropping up again. Poor George, he paid dearly for it in the 
end. But no matter for that now. What is important to us 
is the effect of his decision upon Keats. "I am now so de- 
pressed that I have not an idea to put to paper," the letter 
continues, "my hand feels like lead." Taking up the letter 
again a few days later, we see him in the same state of 
mind: 

" I have but a confused idea of what I should be about 
... I am in that temper that if I were under water I would 
scarcely kick to come up to the top I know very well 'tis 
all nonsense. In a short time I hope I shall be in a temper 
to feel sensibly your mention of my book. In vain I have 
waited till Monday to have any Interest in that, or any- 
thing else. I feel no spur at my Brother's going to America, 
and am almost stony-hearted about his wedding." 

Buxton Forman considers that this letter, the two parts 
of which are dated simply "Thursday," and "Monday," 
was written on May twenty-eighth and June first. But I 
own the holograph, and there is nothing on it to indicate 
the days of the month. It is quite evident, however, that 
the letter was written before George's wedding, and, in 
view of what Keats says of the date of that event in the 
letter of June fourth to the Jeffreys, I am certain that this 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 9 

letter to Bailey was written on May twenty-first and May 
twenty-fifth. 

Keats seems always to have been most generous and loyal 
in regard to the marriages of the people he loved. No 
selfish thought of himself and the loss he may sustain by 
such a change in conditions ever appears to have entered 
his head. I would not belittle the tolerant sympathy he 
showed on such occasions, but still I believe it to be a fact 
that, until his own time came, he had not the slightest 
inkling of the complete absorption of a man in love, the 
host of interests that engross a newly married man which 
no bachelor friend can possibly share. The few young 
couples whom he knew at this period had all been married 
long enough to be able to pay attention to other things 
besides the marvel of a dual existence, and Keats made 
friends with them as they were. As time went on, however, 
he grew to cling more and more to those of his friends who 
were still single, and even to comment a little wistfully 
upon the breaking up of his old set. In George's case, he 
simply had no idea that marriage could bring about any 
change in their relations. We know that he admired his 
sister-in-law; in this very letter to Bailey, he describes her 
as "of a nature liberal and high-spirited enough to follow 
him [George] to the banks of the Mississippi," and two 
weeks later, to the same correspondent, he enlarges upon 
the theme: 

" I had known my sister-in-law some time before she was 
my sister, and was very fond of her. I like her better and 
better. She is the most disinterested woman I ever knew 
that is to say, she goes beyond degree in it. To see an 
entirely disinterested girl quite happy is the most pleasant 
and extraordinary thing in the world." 

Georgiana Wylie being the woman she was, there can be 
no doubt that if she and George had remained in Eng- 
land things would have gone very differently with John. 



io JOHN KEATS 

Both materially and spiritually he would have had a stay 
which he sorely needed. Their going to America was a 
greater blow than he realized, although he realized it badly 
enough. 

Keats's numbness and stony-heartedness was Nature 
protecting herself from what must otherwise have been an 
avalanche of emotion and revolt. But the numbness could 
not last, the protection was bound to break down, and by 
the tenth of June his barriers had all given way and he was 
overwhelmed. Again it is to Bailey that he opens his heart, 
and just because he believed Bailey to be so much more 
stable a character than himself. "You have all your life (I 
think so) believed everybody," he cries out in his misery, 
"I have suspected everybody." He rejoices that there is 
such a thing as death, and says he places his "ultimate in 
the glory of dying for a great human purpose." But his 
agony is upon him and will no longer be gainsaid: 

"I have two brothers; one is driven, by the 'burden of 
Society,' to America; the other with an exquisite love of 
life, is in a lingering state. My love for my Brothers, from 
the early loss of our parents, and even from earlier mis- 
fortunes, has grown into an affection ' passing the love of 
women.' I have been ill-tempered with them I have 
vexed them but the thought of them has always stifled 
the impression that any woman might otherwise have 
made upon me. I have a sister too, and may not follow 
them either to America or to the grave/ 1 

This is no mere despondence; the stark simplicity of the 
words has the chill ruthlessness of fact. It was all true, and 
worse even than he could foresee. The courage with which 
he dares look and express is admirable; and the poet in him, 
tortured and broken though he was, held true to his dedica- 
tion, for the paragraph ends: 

14 Life must be undergone, and I certainly derive some 
consolation from the thought of writing one or two more 
poems before it ceases." 



WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 11 

Although the Scotch tour was a settled thing, Keats was 
not quite happy in his mind about it. We see this from his 
telling Bailey that he is not certain whether he shall be able 
to go on any journey "on account of my Brother Tom, and 
a little indisposition of my own." 

It was certainly a very questionable proceeding to leave 
Tom alone in Hampstead, and Keats must have had a good 
deal of trouble in squaring his going with his conscience. 
But before we condemn him for his final decision, we must 
take into due consideration his morbid state, and think 
soberly of what the effect of his staying under the circum- 
stances would have been on Tom. If he had been well and 
in good spirits, able in all respects to cheer Tom up and 
care for him, then certainly he should have stayed. But he 
was not well, and his spirits were at the lowest ebb. The 
chances are that, reasoning from the facts as he saw them, 
he did the wise thing in regard to Tom by going; for we 
must remember that he had no idea how ill Tom really was, 
and firmly believed that he himself should return from his 
trip quite rested and refreshed, and much better able to 
look after Tom during the Winter. Besides, Mrs. Bentley 
was a most reliable woman, the Dilkes were close by, and 
Haslam, Severn, Wells, and other good friends, were sure 
to keep Tom from feeling lonely. Severn and Haslam had 
been invited to be of the walking party, but had refused, 
Severn on account of lack of cash, Haslam probably for 
business reasons. Of course, Keats's decision to tramp 
about Scotland for two months was, as regards his own 
health, a ghastly blunder; but neither he nor the family 
doctor, Mr. Sawrey, had apparently the faintest concep- 
tion that his "indisposition" had any underlying cause. 
He had a mere passing sore throat, that was all. In accept- 
ing Brown's invitation, Keats signed his doom, but he could 
not know that; and, indeed, with the general ignorance 
in regard to tuberculosis at the time, it is extremely doubt- 
ful whether the disease could have been stayed in any case. 



12 JOHN KEATS 

Certain minor vexations also made Keats wish to get 
away. Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and the Quarterly 
Review had just published fresh attacks on Hunt. In 
Blackwood's y Keats was lugged in under the outrageous 
soubriquet of " the amiable Mister Keats." The Quarterly 
article purported to be a reviewof Hunt's recently published 
Foliage. In this paper, Keats was not specifically mentioned, 
but both he and Shelley were covertly referred to. Keats 
remarks on the subject: "I have more than a laurel from 
the Quarterly Reviewers for they have smothered me in 
'Foliage.' " That is all he has to say of the matter. These 
were flea-bites to his real sorrows, although he might have 
guessed that more was to come. Perhaps he did, but other 
thoughts pressed, and he was in no temper to dwell on 
possible complications of a literary kind. Then, too, 
Bailey had done a nice thing. He had written a very 
complimentary review of Endymion in the Oxford Herald. 
Keats was pleased, of course, but both too much pre- 
occupied, and too wise in the knowledge that public praise 
from a friend often brings out violent refutations from 
enemies, to be much elated. He knew very well that the 
Edinburgh reviewers were merely biding their time. 

The month after George's wedding was passed by Keats 
in as nearly normal a manner as he could compass. Tom 
seemed to be improving, and he and John acquired a habit 
of sitting on a bench opposite their lodgings at Well Walk, 
an occupation which reminded them of the Den at Teign- 
mouth, where, by the same token, they were heartily glad 
not to be. One little glimpse of the newly married couple 
we have in an unpublished note 1 to Taylor from George 
sent from 29 Brunswick Square, where presumably they 
lodged after the wedding. In a postscript to the note, which 
is to thank Taylor for letters of introduction for America, 
George says: 

1 Author's Collection. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 13 

" Reynolds will be with me this Evening can you come, I 
think John likewise, you must see Mrs. Keats since you are 
physognomick and discover if the lines of her face answer 
to her spirit." 

Half-past eleven on Monday morning, June twenty- 
second, saw George and his wife, Keats, and Brown, get- 
ting into, or mounting to the top of, the "Prince Saxe 
Cobourg" Liverpool coach, bound through Stony-Strat- 
ford, Lichfield, and the Potteries, and due to arrive at its 
destination in thirty-two hours precisely. 

It was a bright, warm morning, with Midsummer Day a 
bare twelve hours gone by. We can fancy the spirits of the 
party. George elated; Georgiana excited, delighted, but a 
little tearful; John resolutely forgetting the approaching 
separation and forcing his mind to the pleasures of the 
coming trip, which, in the exhilaration of sunny air, swift 
motion, and constantly changing scene, became momently 
less difficult; Brown thoroughly cheerful and happy and full 
of amusing anecdote. The coach stopped at Red bourne for 
dinner, and there was Keats's old friend, Henry Stephens, 
having been advised by Keats of their coming, awaiting 
them in the porch of the Black Bull Inn. 

Stephens was now in practice at Redbourne, and he and 
Keats had seen little or nothing of each other for nearly 
two years, but Keats had preserved a kindly recollection of 
him and was most anxious to introduce him to his new 
sister-in-law. Stephens, years afterwards, recorded his 
impression of her as he remembered it: 

1 " Rather short, not what might be called strictly hand- 
some, but looked like a being whom any man of moderate 
sensibility might easily love. She had the imaginative 
poetical cast. Somewhat singular and girlish in her attire 
. . . There was something original about her, and John 
seemed to regard her as a being whom he delighted to 
honour, and introduced her with evident satisfaction." 

1 Colvin. 



i 4 JOHN KEATS 

All too soon for the chattering party, the guard blew his 
horn to warn all and sundry that time was up, and the 
travellers hurried out of the inn and started off once more 
on the long journey to Liverpool. Thirty-two hours of 
steady coaching was no joke, but these were all very young 
people, determined to find everything quite perfect that 
came in their way. And the sun did not set until after 
eight, with the long, lingering Midsummer twilight to 
follow. The moon was a waning one, not making its ap- 
pearance until near midnight, but Jupiter was especially 
bright that year. Perhaps they went inside the coach, but 
I do not believe it; I believe these four gay young people 
(and we can suppose John the gayest of all by intention) 
rode all the way high on the top, and saw everything 
there was to be seen, and slept very little and very un- 
comfortably, which they would not admit, and found the 
second day as much to their liking as the first, until 
punctually at half-past seven o'clock on Tuesday evening 
the coach deposited them, a rather weary group, at the door 
of the Crown Inn in Liverpool. I imagine John going to 
bed, with his good spirits somewhat evaporated as the 
thought of the inevitable parting, now so near, obtruded 
itself, but with the serviceable Brown luckily on hand to 
keep the blue devils from engulfing him. After all, he was 
very tired, and Scotland was still ahead. 

In those days, people did not book passages in London 
for a certain ship sailing at a certain hour on a certain day, 
and arrive at the port of embarkation just in time to step 
on board. Sailing ships were at the mercy of winds, tides, 
and various other circumstances. What people bound on a 
voyage did, whether they secured their accommodations 
ahead or not, was to travel to the place whence a ship 
would sail some time and wait until it did. Accordingly, 
when the George Keatses would sail was extremely 
problematical; and it had never been intended that Keats 
and Brown should wait and see them off. Brown, we may 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 15 

be sure, was anxious to begin the walking part of the tour, 
and Keats would certainly have had too much sense to 
prolong a leave-taking which was so difficult and painful. 
The plunge into the future must be taken, and Keats 
plunged, with all the force of his character helping him on. 
It would have been wiser to rest a day after the long coach 
journey from London, but Keats, knowing his own mental 
condition, deemed otherwise. From Liverpool to Lancaster 
would be dull walking, it was therefore decided to begin the 
tour proper from that place. 

Coaches to Lancaster left the Crown Inn at almost any 
hour, and taking one of the earliest of these, so early, in 
fact, that George was not up when they departed, the 
young men were whirled away from Liverpool, with its eter- 
nal rumbling drays, and forests of masts, and its atmosphere 
of salt and tar and the far-reaching contacts of trade. 
Keats had no idea when he should meet his brother and 
sister-in-law again. George he did see, two years later; but, 
with Georgiana, the parting at Liverpool was final. By the 
time she was able to return to England, Keats was dead. 
Probably no natural law is more merciful to man than that 
which prevents his seeing beyond the present. Blue, Keats 
certainly was, when the coach-wheels started to turn, but 
not so blue as to expect from fate any such bitter luck as 
this. In fact, the bridge of separation once crossed, his 
spirits, as is usual when one is young and events are inter- 
esting, began to rise. His letters during the early part of 
his trip show him in much better cue than for a long time 
previously. 

Lancaster, when they reached it, offered the two eager 
young men no welcome at all. The town was all in a clatter 
over a coming election. In 1818, Lord Brougham under- 
took to contest the hitherto unchallenged supremacy of the 
great Lowther family by offering himself as Whig candidate 
for parliament for the county of Westmoreland. Such a 
state of things was unheard of, and the Tory party bristled 



16 JOHN KEATS 

with rage and unwonted energy, doing all in their power to 
frustrate such an evil design. The Whigs, no whit behind 
their opponents in activity, were out in force, and the 
combination of so much righteous fire and indignation on 
both sides filled the town with an inconceivable amount of 
noise and bustle. The inns were full to overflowing. "Not 
a bed to be had," was the invariable answer which the 
travellers received. At last one of them relented to the 
extent of promising dinner, a meal for which Keats and 
Brown had to wait two hours. The problem of where to 
pass the night was finally solved by discovering a private 
house willing to take them in. 

Here was an uncomfortable beginning indeed, but to 
Keats and Brown it was no beginning at all, merely a pro- 
longation of the prologue. The beginning would be next 
day, and by sunrise they were ready for it. Four o'clock in 
the morning of Thursday, June twenty-fifth, found them 
dressed, knapsacks packed, but it rained, rained cats 
and dogs. Being new to the weather, they set themselves 
to wait, whiling away the time with a volume of Milton 
which Brown had brought along. Keats's contribution to 
their joint library was the miniature Dante in three 
volumes, translated by the Reverend H. F. Gary, and 
"printed for the author" by J. Barfield, in 1814. These 
were the only books they had. But they had abundance 
of another requisite, each was well provided with pens, 
ink, and paper, and, for the rest, a change or two of socks, 
shirts, and handkerchiefs. That was as much as the knap- 
sacks would hold or they could carry. The fact that they 
had no duplicate outer garments left them badly at the 
mercy of the elements, an inconvenience they had not 
considered. 

Since the house where they lodged had not included food 
in its bargain, breakfast must be walked for. It was there- 
fore eminently satisfactory when, at seven o'clock, the rain 
lightened to a Scotch mist. This was sufficient encourage- 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 17 

ment to make them hurriedly strap on their knapsacks and 
set out. The trip was actually begun at last. 

Four miles brought the pedestrians to Bolton-le-Sands, 
where they succeeded in getting breakfast, and the mist 
clearing away at noon, they had a pleasant afternoon's 
walk, which included their first real view. By the time they 
reached Burton-in-Kendal, the thought of dinner was by no 
means disagreeable, but Burton was no better able to 
accommodate them than Lancaster had been the day be- 
fore. The landlord of the Green Dragon refused them, not 
only food, but even a room to sit in. His house was full of 
soldiers, he said, and he could give them nothing. The 
landlady of the King's Arms was in no better case, but of a 
kindlier disposition. Her loquacity made her at least more 
human. ^'Ah, gentlemen!" she wailed, "the soldiers are 
upon us. The Lowthers had brought 'em here to be in 
readiness . . . Dear me, dear me! at this election time to 
have soldiers upon us, when we ought to be making a bit of 
money. Not to be able to entertain anybody. There was 
yesterday, I was forced to turn away two parties in their 
own carriages; for I have not a room to offer, nor a bed for 
any one. You can't sleep here, gentlemen, but I can give 
you a dinner." The sorely-burdened soul was as good as 
her word, for dinner they did get, but out they had to go 
after it in search of a lodging. They tried a public-house by 
the roadside with no sort of success, and as by this time the 
rain had come on again, things did not look very cheerful. 
At length, however, they found accommodation, such as it 
was, in a miserable little den of an inn in the village of End 
Moor. 

Walking trips were very far from being the fashion in the 
early nineteenth century. The sight of two young men 
with knapsacks on their backs suggested pedlars to the 

1 From Walks in the North during the Summer of 1818, by Charles 
Armitage Brown. Published in the Plymouth and Dcwnport Weekly Journal 
in 1840. Day Collection. 



1 8 JOHN KEATS 

rural mind, and here, at End Moor, a drunken old labourer 
made a clutch at Brown's knapsack, at the same time ask- 
ing if he sold razors or spectacles. 

The next day, Friday, took them through Kendal and 
beyond to a fine nine mile stretch on the way to Lake 
Windermere. This walk Brown describes in characteristic 
vein as follows: 

lu The country was wild and romantic, the weather fine, 
though not sunny, while the fresh mountain air, and many 
larks about us, gave us unbounded delight. As we ap- 
proached the lake, the scenery became more and more 
grand and beautiful, and from time to time we stayed our 
steps, gazing intently on it. Hitherto, Keats had witnessed 
nothing superior to Devonshire; but beautiful as that is, he 
was now tempted to speak of it with indifference. At the 
first turn from the road, before descending to the hamlet of 
Bowness, we both simultaneously came to a full stop. The 
lake lay before us. His bright eyes darted on a mountain- 
peak, beneath which was gently floating on a silver cloud ; 
thence to a very small island, adorned with the foliage of 
trees, that lay beneath us, and surrounded by water of a 
glorious hue, when he exclaimed: 'How can I believe in 
that? Surely it cannot be!' He warmly asserted that no 
view in the world could equal this, that it must beat all 
Italy; yet having moved onward but a hundred yards, 
catching the further extremity of the lake, he thought it 
'more and more wonderfully beautiful/ The trees far and 
near, the grass immediately around us, the fern and furze 
in their most luxuriant growth, all added to the charm. 
Not a mist, but an imperceptible vapour bestowed a 
mellow, softened tint over the immense mountains on the 
opposite side, and at the further end of the lake." 

Before we smile at Brown's "immense mountains" and 
Keats's conviction that this view of Lake Windermere 
must "beat all Italy," let us remember that Brown had 
hitherto seen nothing grander in the way of scenery than 

1 From Brown's published account. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 19 

Wales could offer, and that Keats's experience of the 
picturesque was limited to the Isle of Wight and the 
country-side about Teignmouth. To these two extremely 
untravelled young men, the charming views which the lake 
country constantly reveals, views which remind an Amer- 
ican so strongly of bits of New Hampshire, were of an 
unparalleled magnificence. Such eye-peeps were tonic to 
Keats. He walked on air, and drank in what he saw in 
great gulps of joyous appreciation. 

Arriving at Bowness, the travellers found an excellent 
and up-to-date inn, well furnished, and perfectly equipped 
for every event. The first thing they did was to row out on 
the lake and dip up some preserved trout for dinner; the 
next, was to have a good bath in the lake; and the last, to 
sit themselves down in the inn dining-room and dispatch 
the trout. 

It is amusing to note that, in their enthusiasm for the 
simple life, they found the sophistication of the Bowness 
inn anything but admirable. Brown says: 

1 "... we thought the many luxuries, together with the 
cold, civil, professional formality attending them, but ill 
accorded with the view from the window; nay, the curtains, 
furnished by some gay upholsterer, about that very win- 
dow, might almost be construed into something like an 
affront. " 

After dinner, they once more took to the road, walking 
the six miles to Ambleside in a perfect trance of delight. 
Brown is most eloquent about this walk, but a single one of 
his many descriptions must serve us here. It is less garish 
than is usual with him, and for that very reason telling 
enough to produce an atmosphere. In it, we have the very 
spirit of the afternoon: 

"The wind had become fresh, waving the foliage and 
rippling the water, the sound of which, together with 
the singing of the birds was perfect." 

1 From Brown's published account. 



oo JOHN KEATS 

The sun came out as they approached Ambleside, firing 
the still hanging clouds to curvatures of gold and purple 
brilliance; and so they reached Ambleside and put up for 
the night. 

Saturday was to be a day of rest, or at least they had 
decided not to tramp on that day, merely to tramp about. 
Somewhat less early than the inconceivably early hours 
at which they usually began the day, these indefatigable 
young persons sallied forth to see the sights. But these I 
prefer to let Keats describe, and it so happens that a 
fortunate accident has put into our possession a letter 
containing a detailed account of these first days of the tour, 
and in particular of this Saturday morning at Ambleside. 
This letter is none other than the first of the series of long 
journal letters, carried on from day to day and posted at 
convenient intervals, which Keats wrote to Tom during 
this Summer. The history of its discovery is among the 
curious happenings of literary fortune. Mr. Ralph Leslie 
Rusk, Assistant Professor of English at the University of 
Indiana, has lately been engaged upon a book on the 
literature of the Middle-Western frontiers. The course of 
his researches led him to the newspapers published in the 
frontier towns of the period, and among others consulted 
was the Western Messenger, published in Louisville, 
Kentucky. Going through the files of this paper, under the 
date of June, 1836, Professor Rusk suddenly stumbled 
upon a communication from George Keats, which proved 
on examination to be a letter from the poet to his brother 
Tom. The opening of the letter was not given, but other- 
wise it appeared to have been copied in full. That there 
must have been such a letter, was evident from the farther 
correspondence, but it had been supposed to be lost, as 
probably the original is by now, yet for nearly ninety years 
this faithful copy of it had slumbered unmolested where no 
one had had the wit to look for it. Professor Rusk realized 
instantly what he had found, and transcribed the letter in 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 21 

full, and then, with admirable generosity, permitted it to 
be printed in the North American Review with a few most 
interesting comments by himself. 

The value of Professor Rusk's discovery is greatly 
enhanced by the supreme importance of the letter itself. 
For it ranks as one of the best of the Scotch letters, and 
certainly the one in which Keats's power of prose descrip- 
tion is most in evidence. It was begun on the evening of 
the first day's walk, continued at Bowness on the following 
day, and finished at Ambleside after breakfast on Saturday. 
I print it here by permission of Professor Rusk and the 
editor of the North American Review. 

1 "Here beginneth my journal, this Thursday, the 25th 
day of June, Anno Domini 1818. This morning we arose at 
4, and set off in a Scotch mist; put up once under a tree, and 
in fine, have talked wet and dry to this place, called in the 
vulgar tongue Endmoor, 17 miles; we have not been in- 
commoded by our knapsacks; they serve capitally, and we 
shall go on very well. 

June 26 I merely put pro forma, for there is no such 
thing as time and space, which by the way came forcibly 
upon me on seeing for the first hour the Lake and Moun- 
tains of Winander I cannot describe them they 
surpass my expectation beautiful water shores and 
islands green to the marge mountains all round up to 
the clouds. We set out from Endmoor this morning, 
breakfasted at Kendal with a soldier who had been in all the 
wars for the last seventeen years then we have walked 
to Bowne's [Bowness] to dinner said Bowne's situated 
on the Lake where we have just dined, and I am writ- 
ing at this present. I took an oar to one of the islands to 
take up some trout for our dinner, which they keep in 
porous boxes. I enquired of the waiter for Wordsworth 
he said he knew him, and that he had been here a few days 
ago, canvassing for the Lowthers. What think you of that 
Wordsworth versus Brougham ! ! Sad sad sad 
and yet the family has been his friend always. What can 

1 Quoted from the North American Review, March, 1924. 



22 JOHN KEATS 

we say? We are now about seven miles from Rydale, and 
expect to see him to-morrow. You shall hear all about our 
visit. 

There are many disfigurements to this Lake not in 
the way of land or Water. No; the two views we have had 
of it are of the most noble tenderness they can never 
fade away they make one forget the divisions of life; 
age, youth, poverty and riches; and refine one's sensual 
vision into a sort of north star which can never cease to be 
open lidded and stedfast over the wonders of the great 
Power. The disfigurement I mean is the miasma of 
London. I do suppose it contaminated with bucks and 
soldiers, and women of fashion and hat-band ignorance. 
The border inhabitants are quite out of keeping with the 
romance about them, from a continual intercourse with 
London rank and fashion. But why should I grumble? 
They let me have a prime glass of soda water O they are 
as good as their neighbours. But Lord Wordsworth, in- 
stead of being in retirement, has himself and his house full 
in the thick of fashionable visitors quite convenient to be 
pointed at all the summer long. When we had gone about 
half this morning, we began to get among the hills and 
to see the mountains grow up before us the other half 
brought us to Wynandermere, 14 miles to dinner. The 
weather is capital for the views, but is now rather misty, 
and we are in doubt whether to walk to Ambleside to tea 
it is five miles along the borders of the Lake. Loughrigg 
will swell up before us all the way I have an amazing 
partiality for mountains in the clouds. There is nothing in 
Devon like this, and Brown says there is nothing in Wales 
to be compared to it. I must tell you, that in going through 
Cheshire and Lancaster, I saw the Welsh mountains at a 
distance. We have passed the two castles, Lancaster and 
Kendal. 

27th We walked here to Ambleside yesterday along 
the border of Winandermere all beautiful with wooded 
shores and Islands our road was a winding lane, wooded 
on each side, and green overhead, full of Foxgloves every 
now and then a glimpse of the Lake, and all the while Kirk- 
stone and other large hills nestled together in a sort of grey 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 23 

black mist. Ambleside is at the northern extremity of the 
Lake. We arose this morning at six, because we call it a 
day of rest, having to call on Wordsworth who lives only 
two miles hence before breakfast we went to see the 
Ambleside waterfall. The morning beautiful the walk 
early among the hills. We, I may say, fortunately, missed 
the direct path, and after wandering a little, found it out 
by the noise for, mark you, it is buried in trees, in the 
bottom of the valley the stream itself is interesting 
throughout with ' mazy error over pendant shades.' Milton 
meant a smooth river this is buffetting all the way on a 
rocky bed ever various but the waterfall itself, which I 
came suddenly upon, gave me a pleasant twinge. First we 
stood a little below the head about half way down the first 
fall, buried deep in trees, and saw it streaming down two 
more descents to the depth of near fifty feet then we 
went on a jut of rock nearly level with the tsecond [sic] fall- 
head, where the first fall was above us, and the third below 
our feet still at the same time we saw that the water was 
divided by a sort of cataract island on whose other side 
burst out a glorious stream then the thunder and the 
freshness. At the same time the different falls have as 
different characters; the first darting down the slate rock 
like an arrow; the second spreading out like a fan the 
third dashed into a mist and the one on the other side 
of the rock a sort of mixture of all these. We afterwards 
moved away a space, and saw nearly the whole more mild, 
streaming silverly through the trees. What astonishes me 
more than anything is the tone, the colouring, the slate, the 
stone, the moss, the rock-weed ; or, if I may so say, the intel- 
lect, the countenance of such places. The space, the magni- 
tude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before 
one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone 
must surpass every imagination and defy any remem- 
brance. I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write 
more than ever, for the abstract endeavour of being able to 
add a mite to that mass of beauty which is harvested from 
these grand materials, by the finest spirits, and put into 
ethereal existence for the relish of one's fellows. I cannot 
think with Hazlitt that these scenes make man appear little. 



24 JOHN KEATS 

I never forgot my stature so completely I live in the eye; 
and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest We shall see 
another water-fall near Kydal [Rydal] to which we shall 
proceed after having put these letters in the post office. I 
long to be at Carlisle, as I expect there a letter from George 
and one from you. Let any of my friends see my letters 
they may not be interested in descriptions descriptions 
are bad at all times I did not intend to give you any; 
but how can I help it? I am anxious you should taste a little 
of our pleasure; it may not be an unpleasant thing, as you 
have not the fatigue. I am well in health. Direct hence- 
forth to Post Patrick [Port Patrick] till the I2th July. 
Content that probably three or four pairs of eyes whose 
owners I am rather partial to will run over these lines I 
remain ; and moreover that I am your affectionate brother 
JOHN." 

In his comment on the letter, Professor Rusk opens up 
an engaging problem. The passage in which he does so, I 
will quote: 

"In its relation to the poems of Keats, this part of his 
journal is rivalled in significance by only a few of his other 
letters. One must be struck especially by the remarkable 
passage which is perhaps reminiscent of the opening lines 
of Endymion and is certainly suggestive of both the thought 
and the imagery of the 'Bright Star* sonnet: the views he 
and Brown had had of Windermere were 'of the most 
noble tenderness they can never fade away they 
make one forget the divisions of life; age, youth, poverty 
and riches; and refine one's sensual vision into a sort of 
north star which can never cease to be open lidded and 
steadfast over the wonders of the great Power.' Though 
the resemblance between this passage and Endymion, cer- 
tainly more a matter of thought than of words, is possibly 
only fanciful, something more must be said for its relation 
to Keats's 'last' sonnet." 

It has been known for some time that the so-called "last" 
sonnet was by no means such, having been written in 1819. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 25 

Professor Rusk suggests that it may have been written 
even earlier, possibly, indeed, when Keats wrote this letter 
to Tom. Professor Rusk commits himself so far as to say: 
"The passage in the journal makes it extremely likely that 
at least the first part of the famous sonnet was already in 
Keats's mind when he explored the shores of Windermere 
on June 26, 1818." This is ingenious reasoning, but leaves 
out the witness of psychology, for a close study of Keats's 
state of mind at the time shows him as quite out of the 
mood in which the sonnet was written. What his mood at 
the moment was, Professor Rusk had not adequate means 
of knowing, but we may clearly see. For a hitherto un- 
published letter to George contains two poems, one writ- 
ten that same evening, the other on the following day, 
and both are as unlike in tone to the sonnet as could be 
imagined. I do believe, however, with Professor Rusk, that 
this letter has a close connection with the "last" sonnet; 
but what this connection is, I shall wait until we reach the 
time when I feel sure it was written to consider. At the end 
of Professor Rusk's article is a bit of criticism so trenchant 
and true, so exactly in accordance with the facts, that I 
wish to set it down here, in his words. Referring to Keats's 
sentence: "I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth 
write more than ever," Professor Rusk adds: "Here, for 
once, he realized his desire to forget his own harassing per- 
sonality and live in the eye alone." 

It should be pointed out that Keats did not mean that he 
should write more poetry "here," but that the beautiful 
and imposing scenes he was witnessing would in them- 
selves teach him much about poetry, and from the memory 
of them stored away in his brain poetry was sure to come. 
His remark: "My imagination, surpassed, is at rest" must 
be noted. It is a touchstone to the creative temperament. 

The letter to Tom breaks off with the early morning's 
adventures; for those of the rest of the day, I shall again 
let Keats be his own spokesman. At the moment, it is 



a6 JOHN KEATS 

sufficient to say that after taking in all that the locality had 
to offer, the travellers determined to get on a little, and 
did so by proceeding to Wytheburn, a little village at the 
foot of Helvellyn, which they hoped to climb the next 
morning. Here Keats wrote what seems to have been his 
second letter. This second letter 1 has never before been 
printed, so far as I know, I therefore give it entire. It is 
addressed to "Mr. George Keats. Crown Inn. Liverpool," 
and is postmarked "Keswick" and "Liverpool." But 
George had sailed before the letter arrived, and it was 
returned to John, who has endorsed it "To be sent to 
George." 

"Foot of Helvellyn June 27. 
MY DEAR GEORGE: 

We have passed from Lancaster to Burton from Burton 
to Enmoor, from Enmoor to Kendal from Kendal to 
Bownes. On turning down to which place there burst 
upon us the most beautiful and rich view of Winanda mere 
and the surrounding Mountains we dined at Bownes on 
Trout which I took an oar to fetch from some Box pre- 
serves close on one of the little green Islands. After dinner 
we walked to Ambleside down a beautiful shady Lane 
along the Borders of the Lake with ample opportunity for 
Glimpses all the way. We slept at Ambleside not above 
two miles from Rydal the Residence of Wordsworth. We 
arose not very early on account of having marked this day 
for a day of rest. Before breakfast we visited the first 
waterfall I ever saw and certainly small as it is it surpassed 
my expectation, in what I have mentioned in my letter to 
Tom, in its tone and intellect its light and shade slaty 
Rock, Moss and Rock weed but you will see finer ones I 
will not describe by comparison a teapot spout. We eat a 
Monstrous Breakfast on our return (which by the way I do 
every morning) and after it proceeded to Wordsworth's. 
He was not at home nor was any Member of his family. I 
was much disappointed. I wrote a note for him and stuck 
it up over what I knewmust be Miss Wordsworth's Portrait, 
1 Author's Collection. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 27 

and set forth again and we visited two Waterfalls in the 
neighbourhood, and then went along by Rydal Water and 
Grassmere through its beautiful Vale then through a 
defile in the Mountains into Cumberland and so to the foot 
of Helvellyn whose summit is out of sight four Miles off 
rise above rise. I have seen Kirkstone, Loughrigg and 
Silver How and discovered without a hint * that ancient 
woman seated on Helm Craig/ This is the summary of 
what I have written to Tom and dispatched from Amble- 
side. I have had a great confidence in your being well able 
to support the fatigues of your Journey since I have felt 
how much new Objects contribute to keep off a sense of 
Ennui and fatigue. 14 miles here is not so much as the 4 
from Hampstead to London. You will have an inexhausti- 
ble astonishment; with that and such a Companion you 
will be cheered on from day to day. I hope you will not 
have sail'd before this Letter reaches you yet I do not 
know for I will have my series to Tom copied and sent to 
you by the first Packet you have from England. God send 
you both as good Health as I have now. Ha! my dear 
Sister George I wish I knew what humour you were in 
that I might accomodate myself to any one of your 
amiabilities. Shall it be a Sonnet or a Pun or an Acrostic, 
a Riddle or a Ballad 'perhaps it may turn out a Sang, 
and perhaps turn out a Sermon.' I'll write you on my 
word the first and most likely the last I ever shall do, be- 
cause it has struck me what shall it be about. 

Give me your patience Sister while I frame 

Enitials verse-wise of your golden name: 

Or sue the fair Apollo and he will 

Rouse from his slumber heavy and instill 

Great love in me for thee and Poesy. 

Imagine not that greatest Mastery 

And Kingdom over all the realm of verse 

Nears more to Heaven in aught than when we nurse 

And surety give to Love and Brotherhood. 

Anthropophagi in Othello's mood, 
Ulysses stormed, and his enchanted Belt 



28 JOHN KEATS 

Glow with the Muse but they are never felt 
Unbosom'd so, and so eternal made, 
Such selfsame incense in their Laurel shade 
To all the regent sisters of the Nine 
As this poor offering to thee Sister mine. 

Kind Sister! Aye this third name says you are 
Entranced has it been the Lord knows where. 
All may it taste to you like good old wine. 
Take you to real Happiness and give 
Sons daughters and a Home like honied hive. 

June 28. I have slept and walked eight miles to Breakfast 
to Keswick on derwent water. We could not mount Helvel- 
lyn for the mist so gave it up with hopes of Skiddaw which 
we shall try tomorrow if it be fine to day we shall walk 
round Derwent water, and in our Way see the Falls of 
Low-dore. The approach to derwent water is rich and 
magnificent beyond any means of conception the 
Mountains all round sublime and graceful and rich in 
colour. Woods and wooded Islands here and there at 
the same time in the distance among Mountains of another 
aspect we see Bassenthwaite [page torn] drop like a hawk 
on the Post Office at Carlisle [torn] some letters from you 
and Tom. 

Sweet sweet is the greeting of eyes, 
And sweet is the voice in its greeting, 
When Adieux have grown old and goodbyes 
Fade away where old time is retreating 

Warm the nerve of a welcoming hand 
And earnest a Kiss on the Brow. 
When we meet over sea and o'er Land 
Where furrows are new to the Plough. 

This is all [torn] in the [torn] please [torn]. Letters as 
[torn] We will before many years are over have written 
many folio volumes which is a Matter of self-defence to 
one whom you understand intends to be immortal in the 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 29 

best points and let all his sins and peccadillos die away. I 
mean to say that the Booksellers will rather decline print- 
ing ten folio volumes of Correspondence printed as close as 
the Apostles creed in a Watch paper. I have been looking 
out my dear Georgy for a joke or a Pun for you. there is 
none but the Names of romantic Misses on the Inn win- 
dow Panes. You will of course have given me directions 
Brother George where to direct on the other side of the 
Water. I have not had time to write to Henry 1 for I 
have a journal to keep for Tom nearly enough to employ all 
my leisure. I am a day behind hand with him. I scarcely 
know how I shall manage Fanny and two or three others I 
have promised. We expect to be in Scotland in at most 
three days so you must if this should catch you before you 
set sail give me a line to Port-Patrick. 
God Bless you my dear brother and sister, 

JOHN." 

John never did send this letter to George. The only part 
of it which crossed the ocean was the acrostic on his sister- 
in-law's name, "Georgiana Augusta Keats," which he 
copied into a letter written in the Autumn of 1819, intro- 
ducing it by saying: "I wrote it in a great hurry which you 
will see. Indeed I would not copy it if I thought it would 
ever be seen by any but yourselves." The acrostic is little 
worse than such tours -de-force usually are. It was a " stunt " 
tossed off for fun. The other poem in this letter is an un- 
lucky find on my part; it has never been in print before. I 
say unlucky, because, while the scheme of this book makes 
it imperative that I sedulously put in whatever verse I dis- 
cover which is certainly by Keats and has not heretofore 
been published, regardless of its merits, this poem is so 
singularly poor that poetically nothing would have been 
lost had it remained in oblivion. Keats was quite aware of 
this; he did not copy it into the letter which contained the 
acrostic. What little interest it has, lies in the fact that it 
shows Keats already solacing himself with the thought of 

1 Mrs. George Keats's brother. 



30 JOHN KEATS 

meeting. The past he has put definitely behind him, and he 
is already planning for the future. But, indeed, the whole 
letter is so different in tone from those sent to Bailey from 
Hampstead that we see quite clearly what a stabilizing 
effect the tramp was having upon him. He was thoroughly 
interested in everything he saw. The kind of country 
he was walking through was new to him, the life of the 
pedestrian tourist equally so. Even the sound, dog-tired 
sleeps, and the big breakfasts, were doing him good. That 
this early part of the tour was really productive of good, is 
an evidence of what an unusually strong man he was 
meant by nature to be; for we must never forget that al- 
ready tuberculosis had begun its insidious work and such 
strenuous days could only have hastened its action. Keats 
was perfectly cognizant of the why and wherefore of his 
raised spirits and his pleasant sense of well-being. When, 
in the letter, he comments upon the fact of novelty serving 
to banish ennui and fatigue, for "ennui" we may read 
"despondence." For the time being, he was high cocka- 
lorum, and Brown was a first-rate companion to keep up 
his mood. 

As the letter has told us, Sunday morning dawned with 
a Scotch mist. It had rained in the night, and not only was 
the going bad, but Helvellyn was all in cloud; there was no 
possibility of any view from it, so the travellers, comforting 
themselves with the thought of Skiddaw to come, tugged 
on to Keswick, eight long miles, to breakfast. That meal 
dispatched, and the weather clearing somewhat, they 
walked round Derwent Water and went to see the Fall of 
Lodore in which they were rather disappointed, finding it 
neither so large nor so torrential as they had expected. 
Keats wrote his impressions of it the next day to Tom as 
follows: 

"I had an easy climb among the streams, about the 
fragments of Rocks, and should have got I think to the 
summit, but unfortunately I was damped by slipping one 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 31 

leg into a squashy hole. There is no great body of water, 
but the accompaniment is delightful; for it oozes out of a 
cleft in perpendicular Rocks, all fledged with ash and other 
beautiful trees. It is a strange thing how they got there. 
At the South end of the Lake the Mountains of Borrow- 
dale are perhaps as fine as anything we have seen." 

Keats, it will be observed, mentions no tree specifically 
but the ash. It will be remembered how, two years before, 
he had been intrigued by the thought of a mountain ash. 1 
Here, then, he saw ash-trees and took keen note of the fact, 
probably harking back in his mind, as we are doing, to his 
early preoccupation with the species. 

After dinner, Brown and Keats fagged up hill (the 
expression is Keats's) to the old Druid remains on the road 
to Penrith, which gave Keats much pleasure. These two 
scenes, the tree-clustered mountains over Lodore, and the 
broken circle of Druidical stones, were afterwards utilized 
by Keats in the Ode to Psyche and Hyperion. Brown's 
account of the day is far fuller and more florid than Keats's 
and, in considering this, Sir Sidney Colvin makes a very 
true observation. Since I can in no wise better what he 
says, I will quote the passage somewhat abridged: 

2 " Keats in his own letters says comparatively little about 
the scenery, and that quite simply and quietly, not at all 
with the descriptive enthusiasm of the picturesque tourist 
. . . Partly, no doubt, a certain instinctive reticence . . . 
keeps him from fluent words on the beauties that most 
deeply moved him: his way rather is to let them work 
silently in his being until at the right moment, if the right 
moment comes, their essence and vital power shall distil 
themselves for him into a phrase of poetry. Partly, also, 
the truth is that an intensely active, intuitive genius for 
nature like his hardly needs the stimulus of nature's 
beauties for long or at their highest power, but on a 
minimum of experience can summon up and multiply for 
itself spirit sunsets, and glories of dream lake and moun- 

1 See Vol. I, p. 217. * Life of John Keats, by Sir Sidney Colvin. 



32 JOHN KEATS 

tain, richer and more varied than the mere receptive lover 
of scenery can witness and register in memory during a 
lifetime of travel and pursuit." 

I am very grateful to Sir Sidney for that passage, it 
contains a profound truth not at all understood by the 
generality of men. Keats's mind and observation worked 
with lightning-like rapidity. The impression was received, 
registered, and done with, in an instant's time. Another 
point to be made is that Keats belonged among the few 
who can receive almost as vivid impressions of scenery 
from verbal descriptions as they can from actual scenes. A 
hint to go upon and he could actually see whatever the 
author he happened to be reading had seen. There had to 
be a hint I doubt if anybody could imagine the sea who 
had never beheld it in actual fact; but having seen the sea 
anywhere, he could imagine it everywhere. Mountains, 
Keats had never seen, hence his exclamation on the road to 
Bowness: "How can I believe in that ? "; on the other hand, 
I think the ash-trees at Lodore appeared positively familiar. 

The two young fellows were very tired that night, yet 
their eagerness pulled them out of bed at four the next 
morning to go up Skiddaw. The day seemed propitious, 
and as they had every hope of finding themselves at the top 
in sunshine, they set out with a guide. Here again I shall 
let Keats tell the story of the climb as he did to Tom in the 
letter I have already quoted: 

"It promised all along to be fair, and we fagged and 
tugged nearly to the top, when, at half-past six, there came 
a Mist upon us, and shut out the view. We did not, how- 
ever, lose anything by it: we were high enough without 
mist to see the coast of Scotland the Irish Sea the 
hills beyond Lancaster and nearly all the large ones of 
Cumberland and Westmoreland, particularly Helvellyn 
and Scawfell. It grew colder and colder as we ascended, 
and we were glad, at about three parts of the way, to taste 
a little rum which the Guide brought with him, mixed, 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 33 

mind ye, with Mountain water. I took two glasses going 
and one returning. It is about six miles from where I am 
writing to the top. So we have walked ten miles before 
Breakfast to-day. We went up with two others, very good 
sort of fellows. All felt, on arising into the cold air, that 
same elevation which a cold bath gives one I felt as if I 
were going to a Tournament." 

That last touch is the very essence of poetry sharp 
bodily and mental sensation distilled to one perfect, un- 
expected phrase. 

The folly of a ten-mile climb up and down on empty 
stomachs is evident; but our two young men were not wise, 
they were merely enthusiastic. From this time on, we hear 
a good deal about fatigue in Keats's letters; Brown could 
stand anything, it seems. What urgent need they had to 
make so much haste cannot be guessed. There was, so far 
as we can see, no reason for all the hurry; but they might 
have been stung by the famous tarantula and doomed to 
perpetual motion from the speed with which they eternally 
went on. On this occasion they do seem to have remained 
at Keswick long enough to eat their breakfasts, and for 
Keats to write part of his letter to Tom, but in the after- 
noon they pushed on past Bassenthwaite Water to Ireby, 
where they came to a halt for the night. 

At the inn at Ireby they found a dancing-school in full 
swing. A lot of lusty young peasants were romping about 
under the guidance of an itinerant dancing-master. 
Keats says: " they kickit and jumpit with metal extraordi- 
nary, and whiskit, and friskit, and toed it, and go'd it, and 
twirl'd it, and whirl'd it, and stamped it, and sweated it, 
tattooing the floor like mad." Keats delighted in it, this 
was something new. And these were people; the human 
nature belonging to the place, engaged in an activity which 
had nothing to do with the travellers. They were people 
spied on in the intimacy of pastime, and this was an experi- 
ence which had been decidedly lacking to the trip so far. 



34 JOHN KEATS 

Such local colouring was just what his mood needed. He 
was intelligent enough to wish to see more of a country 
than its scenery. Here is a significant passage, once more 
to Tom : 

"There was as fine a row of boys and girls as you ever 
saw; some beautiful faces, one exquisite mouth. I never 
felt so near the glory of Patriotism, the glory of making by 
any means a country happier. This is what I like better 
than scenery. I fear our continued moving from place to 
place will prevent our becoming learned in village affairs: 
we are creatures of Rivers, Lakes, and Mountains." 

Keats had "got" the country, he needed no more of 
it; but he very much wanted to "get" the people. Still, 
of course, there was no time. Through Wigton to Carlisle 
they proceeded next day, and found that town, when they 
reached it, a very dull place. "The whole art of yawning 
might have been learned there," Brown declares. Most 
dutifully, however, they saw all there was to be seen, which 
did not impress them. Keats says: "The Cathedral does 
not appear very fine the Castle is very ancient, and of 
brick ... I will tell you anon whether the inside of the 
cathedral is worth looking at." Apparently it was not, for 
no farther information on the subject is vouchsafed Tom, 
who is told instead: "We have now walked 114 miles, and 
are merely a little tired in the thighs and a little blistered." 
In view of the blisters, we can suppose that it was no un- 
welcome news to be told that there was nothing much to 
see between Carlisle and Dumfries and they had better 
coach the thirty-eight miles between the two towns. This 
they accordingly did, and fairly crossed the border into 
Scotland on Wednesday, July first. Keats liked the 
country they passed through on the way not at all. His 
description of it is curiously effective and vivid. "I know 
not how it is," he writes, " the Clouds, the Sky, the Houses, 
all seem anti-Grecian and anti-Charlemagnish." This is 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 35 

pure reaction, but it is also a reversion to type. Keats 
loved the idea of Southern lands, sunny, bright-coloured, 
gay; he also loved the age of chivalry, with knights pacing 
through lonely forests, and grim castles perched on crags 
whose battlemented walls shone crimson in the sunset, 
whence the glare of torches by night cheered the wayfarer 
in the valley below. The Scottish border offered only low 
hills and flat stretches, and a sort of nostalgia for his old 
worlds of romance beset him as he travelled through it. 
Brown tells us that they left "the wonders of Cumberland 
and Westmoreland . . . without a touch of regret." In 
Keats's case, the wonder had been worn bare, and his very 
fatigue called up his old, enchanting visions with a kind of 
mockery as though to tell him that no matter what he 
might see, and do, and admire, at bottom he was always 
irretrievably himself. 

Reaching Dumfries in time for dinner, they sallied out in 
the afternoon to see Burns's tomb. That, and his feelings 
of the morning, gave Keats a sonnet. It is not a little inter- 
esting and important to find that this sonnet, On Visiting 
the Tomb of Burns, is in the Petrarchan form. Psycho- 
logically, we instantly see why. The South and chivalry 
were his early loves. Coming back to them as a tired child 
to his mother, he comes back to the sonnet form in which 
he had been accustomed to write until a few months before. 
Critics have pondered much upon this unexpected return 
to the Petrarchan mode. But does not the reason lie 
embedded in the passage in his letter from Dumfries to 
Tom in which he copies this sonnet? And, after all, what is 
the sonnet but an expression of his spleen. 

On Thursday, the travellers visited the ruins of Lin- 
cluden College in the morning, and after that fate called a 
short halt. Keats's coat had sprung a leak in the seams 
from the rubbing of his knapsack and repairs were instantly 
necessary, for, as Keats wrote to his sister Fanny, "I have 
but one Coat to my back in these parts." So off the coat 



36 JOHN KEATS 

went to the tailor's, and by the time it was returned " forti- 
fied at all points" it was too late to think of reaching Kirk- 
cudbright that night. They therefore went no farther than 
the village of Dalbeattie. 

For some unknown reason, it was the habit of this 
tarantula-bitten pair not to breakfast where they had 
passed the night, probably because their very early starts 
made the getting of breakfast a difficulty only to be over- 
come by extra payments, which they were loath to make. 
On Friday, therefore, they decided to breakfast at Auchen- 
cairn, a village eight miles from Dalbeattie. The way 
thither was particularly pleasant, with continuous views of 
mountains and sea, and this eight mile walk was a fortui- 
tous one for Keats. Brown's account 1 of it contains this 
interesting passage: 

" For the most part, our track lay through corn-fields, or 
skirting small forests. I chatted half the way about Guy 
Mannering, for it happened that Keats had not then read 
that novel, and I enjoyed the recollection of the events as I 
described them in their own scenes. There was a little spot, 
close to our pathway, where, without a shadow of a doubt, 
old Meg Merrilies had often boiled her kettle, and, haply 
cooked a chicken. It was among fragments of rock, and 
brambles, and broom, and most tastefully ornamented 
with profusion of honeysuckle, wild roses and fox-glove, all 
in the very blush and fulness of blossom." 

Keats had little interest in Scott's novels, we have seen 
how he felt about the Antiquary? and it is characteristic of 
him that, of all Brown told him, what really made an im- 
pression was the character and appearance of Meg Merrilies, 
the gypsy. The type of landscape drove her in upon him, 
as it were. He could not escape her. After breakfast at 
Auchencairn, as he and Brown occupied a brief rest in 
writing letters, suddenly Brown's attention was caught by 
the fact that the lines of Keats's letter were not running in 

1 See Note, Vol. II, p. 17. * See Vol. I, p. 507. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 37 

regular prose, and on Brown's asking what he was doing, 
Keats told him that he was writing a ballad about Meg 
Merrilies for Fanny. Brown immediately demanded it to 
copy into his journal. This Keats permitted, at the same 
time protesting that the poem was " too much a trifle to be 
copied." * He copied it himself, however, in a letter which 
he then and there began to Tom. 

It is faint praise to say that this ballad is far and away 
the best thing that Keats did during his Scotch tour. It is 
much more than this, being indeed, to my thinking, one of 
his very best poems. It stands unique in his work. Neither 
before nor after is there any such attempt at ballad form, 
nor any such lyrico-dramatic presentation of a character. 
It ranks with La Belle 'Dame Sans Merci as the sole example 
of a type of poetry which Keats would assuredly have tried 
his hand at again and again had he lived. These two pieces, 
entirely diverse in genre though they are, do, in fact, seem 
to prove that Keats was not only not written out at the 
time of his death, but that he had already found, and 
slightly practiced, two utterly different, but for him 
perfectly new, ways in which to write. They are evidences 
of the diversity and richness of his genius, and of his passion 
for experiment and the breaking out of untrodden paths. 
The ballad form is as old as the hills, but it was new to 
Keats, and this ballad is not really in an old mode. Pro- 
sodically, it follows the rules; psychologically, it is as fresh 
as the Ancient Mariner ', and that was saying much in 1818. 
It is what we may call up-to-date, considering the period; 
while La Belle Dame Sans Merci is more than this, for it 
is the essence and precursor of the whole pre-Raphaelite 
school. 

Friday night saw Keats and Brown at Kirkcudbright, 
from which place Keats wrote into his letter of the morning 
to Fanny the nonsense verses There was a naughty Boy. 
Part of these verses I have already quoted. 2 On Saturday, 

1 From Brown's published account. See Note, Vol. II, p. 17. 
See Vol. I, p. 35- 



38 JOHN KEATS 

July fourth, they seem to have gone as far as Newton 
Stewart, and from thence, on Sunday, the fifth, to Glen- 
luce. Here let me say that it is a little difficult to apportion 
the days correctly during this part of the trip. Brown in 
his published account makes no divisions, and the dates 
of Keats's letters are extremely hard to follow, since he 
frequently goes on from one day to another, not only with- 
out changing the date, but without beginning a new para- 
graph. If Keats's date 1 in a letter to Tom can be taken as 
evidence, they left Glenluce on Monday, July sixth, en 
route for Stranraer, "going round to see some rivers: they 
were scarcely worth while." Having seen the rivers and 
been disappointed in them, they were proceeding on their 
way in a burning sun, "when" says Keats, "the Mail over- 
took us: we got up, and were at Port Patrick in a jiffey." 
At Port Patrick they crossed immediately in the packet to 
Donaghadee. From an old diary of my grandfather's, who 
took somewhat the same trip as Keats a year later, in 1 819, 
I learn that the crossing was accomplished in four hours. 
But that was on a rough day. How long it took Keats, we 
have no means of knowing, but the passage was made 
pleasant to him by hearing two old men sing ballads. 
At Donaghadee, they stopped for the night, and were 
gratified to hear that the Giant's Causeway, to see which 
they had come to Ireland, was only forty-eight miles 
distant; they had feared it seventy. 

At first glance, there seemed to be considerable to be said 
in favour of Ireland over Scotland. Keats's opinion on the 
subject, sent to Tom, is interesting and, although ad- 
mittedly superficial, contains more than a grain of truth: 

2 "I can perceive a great difference in the nations, from 

1 In the letter as published, the date of writing is given as July sixth; 
but in the holograph in the possession of James Freeman Clarke, Esq. of 
Boston, it is very clearly written "July 7." Immediately after this date, 
Keats says: "Yesterday morning we set out from Glen Luce." 

1 Copied from the original letter in the possession of James Freeman 
Clarke, Esq. of Boston, Mass, to whose grandfather it was given by George 
Keats. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 39 

the chambermaid at this nate tun kept by Mr. Kelley. She 
is fair, kind, and ready to laugh, because she is out of the 
horrible dominion of the Scotch Kirk. A Scotch girl stands 
in terrible awe of the Elders poor little Susannah's, they 
will scarcely laugh, they are greatly to be pitied, and the 
Kirk is greatly to be damned. These Kirk-men have done 
Scotland good. 1 They have made old men, young men ; old 
women, young women ; boys, girls and infants all careful 
so they are formed into regular Phalanges of savers and 
gainers. Such a thrifty army cannot fail to enrich their 
Country, and give it a greater appearance of Comfort than 
that of their poor Irish neighbours. These Kirk-men have 
done Scotland harm; they have banished puns, and laugh- 
ing, and kissing, &c. (except in cases where the very 
danger and crime must make it very fine and gustful.) I 
shall make a full stop at kissing, for after that there should 
be a better parenthesis, and go on to remind you of the 
fate of Burns poor unfortunate fellow, his disposition 
was Southern how sad it is when a luxurious imagination 
is obliged, in self-defence, to deaden its delicacy in vulgarity 
and riot in things attainable, that it may not have leisure 
to go mad after things that are not. No man, in such 
matters, will be content with the experience of others. It 
is true that but of sufferance there is no greatness, no 
dignity, that in the most abstracted pleasure there is no 
lasting happiness. Yet who would not like to discover over 
again that Cleopatra was a Gipsy, Helen a rogue, and 
Ruth a deep one? . . . We live in a barbarous age I 
would sooner be a wild deer, than a girl under the do- 
minion of the Kirk; and I would sooner be a wild hog, than 
be the occasion of a poor Creature's penance before those 
execrable elders. 1 ' 

The theory of the baneful effect of inhibitions had not 
been heard of when Keats wrote that passage, and yet how 
clearly and succinctly he has summed it up! His under- 
standing of Burns's case is, considering the period, simply 
extraordinary. Nowhere better than in this passage do we 

1 So in the original; probably Keats omitted " no " by mistake, or else 
intended to put a question mark at the end of the sentence. 



40 JOHN KEATS 

have an insight into Keats's essentially modern mind. 
People before Keats's day had advocated lust and license, 
but who else at the time had indicated any possibly valid 
reasons for them. In those days, lust was lust and license 
license; who advocated them did so because he was willing 
to snap his fingers at the devil and make hay while the sun 
shone. But Keats, while not advocating, condones with a 
reason, a pitiful reason which our age alone has ever com- 
prehended. 

The next day, Tuesday, the travellers set out for Belfast, 
a twenty-two mile walk, during which Keats saw enough of 
the state of the country to disillusion him not a little. He 
was struck with the " worse than nakedness, the rags, the 
dirt and misery of the poor common Irish." "A Scotch 
cottage," he exclaims, "is a palace to an Irish one." The 
young men floundered through a Peat-bog "three miles 
long at least dreary, black, dank, flat and spongy" and 
saw "poor dirty Creatures and a few strong men cutting or 
carting peat." And he cries "What a tremendous difficulty 
is the improvement of the condition of such people. I can- 
not conceive how a mind 'with child' of philanthropy could 
grasp at [the] possibility." 

At Belfast, Keats and Brown discovered that the forty- 
eight miles were Irish ones, equalling seventy English 
miles, and this capped the climax of their disgust. They 
also found that prices at Irish inns were about three 
times those of Scotland. All this was too much, and back 
they footed it next day to Donaghadee. On their return 
walk, they encountered an old hag smoking a pipe, being 
carried along in what Keats calls "the worst dog-kennel 
you ever saw" by a couple of ragged girls. Keats, who 
observed everything, describes her as "looking out with a 
round-eyed, skinny-lidded inanity; with a sort of horizontal 
idiotic movement of the head." 

Reaching Donaghadee, they took the daily packet for 
Port Patrick, and there passed the night of Wednesday, 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 4 i 

July eighth. Keats, who had been disappointed in receiv- 
ing no letters on his arrival at Port Patrick two days before, 
repaired to the Post Office again, and we can imagine his 
feelings he who hated soldiers when the postmaster 
snapped out "What regiment?" 

The two friends, not too well pleased with their experi- 
ences, left Port Patrick, it would seem, on July ninth, and 
repaired to Stranraer, and from thence to Cairn and 
Ballantrae. The road from Cairn gave them much 
pleasure, and both Keats and Brown wax eloquent about 
it. Finally, on climbing up a considerable ascent, they 
caught sight of Ailsa Rock fifteen miles out to sea. This 
great mass of stone, heaved up out of the waves to a grim 
and solitary grandeur, greatly moved Keats. He tells Tom : 

"The effect of Ailsa with the peculiar perspective of the 
Sea in connection with the ground we stood on, and the 
misty rain then falling gave me a complete Idea of a 
deluge. Ailsa struck me very suddenly really I was a 
little alarmed." 

The first sentence of that passage is excessively interesting, 
for Keats sees with the vision of a painter, but of no painter 
of his time. It is no early nineteenth century European 
picture that he gives us here, but a Japanese colour print. 
Even the suggestion of perspective does not mar the effect, 
which is, I think, given by his speaking of the misty rain 
falling between him and the Rock and sea. In colour and 
form the scene is absolutely Japanese. Any one who is 
familiar with Hiroshige's Night Rain at Karaski, one of the 
Eight Views of Lake Biwa, with its veil of dropping rain half 
obscuring a gigantic pine-tree, will understand what I 
mean. Keats, of course, was totally ignorant of Japanese 
art. For three hundred years, Japan had been sealed to all 
foreigners except a few Portuguese traders, and even these 
were allowed no farther than an island off Nagasaki. Yet 
that John Keats saw landscape from the same angle as the 



42 JOHN KEATS 

great masters of Ukio-ye, a close student of his letters can- 
not fail to be aware. 

Toward the end of the day, the misty rain turned into a 
regular downpour, and the soaked couple hurried down to 
Ballantrae extremely eager for food and shelter. The land- 
lord of the inn at Stranraer, where they seem to have 
breakfasted, had told them "not to go to the Post Chaise 
inn, as things might not be quite comfortable there, be- 
cause the landlord was a little in trouble." "A little in 
trouble!" exclaims the irate Brown, "he had been just 
taken up for being concerned in robbing the Paisley bank." 
The inn they were forced to go to in consequence was very 
poor, and the wind blowing up a gale soon turned the rain 
into a violent storm. During the evening, Keats wrote a 
decidedly clever attempt at a Scotch ballad in dialect, be- 
cause Brown wanted to fool the antiquary Dilke by send- 
ing it to him as a bona fide Galloway song. The subject 
Keats took from a wedding party they had encountered on 
the road. The ballad is, as I say, a clever imitation, yet 
Keats was right in observing " but it won't do." This sort 
of thing was not his business, and a tyro could have 
spotted it at once, for all its ingenuity, as not done by a 
Scotchman. Meanwhile the storm was increasing in fury 
minute by minute. All night the miserable little building 
in which they were, shook, and squeaked, and groaned, 
clapping its windows and rattling its doors, with the result 
that neither Keats nor Brown got a wink of sleep. It was 
rather a bedraggled pair, therefore, who set forth next day 
to walk the thirteen miles to Girvan. But the rain at least 
had stopped, and at Girvan they found, says Keats with 
appreciation, "comfortable quarters." 

Their usual day's mileage was about twenty miles, but 
the good inn at Girvan tempted them to fare no farther 
that day. Instead, Keats wrote a sonnet on Ailsa Rock. 
There seems to have been something about this part of 
Scotland which made it, to Keats's thinking, unsympa- 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 43 

thetic to the Shakespearian form of sonnet. Of course, 
there is no reason why a poet should not write in both 
the Petrarchan and Shakespearian modes, using either 
at will. In Keats's case, he seems to have employed 
them during this Summer almost at haphazard. If any 
clue can be found, it appears to lie in the associations which 
the two forms carried with them, rather than in any sense 
of fitness in the subjects themselves. It is, perhaps, push- 
ing possibilities somewhat far to suggest that the sonnet To 
my Brother George, written at Margate in 1816, and the 
sonnet On the Sea, written at Carisbrooke in 1817, have a 
certain thematic connection with Aiha Rock. This is a 
point to be glanced at merely, nothing more. 

Keats calls To Aiha Rock " the only Sonnet of any worth 
I have of late written." It does, in fact, come near to being 
a very fine sonnet, but the confusion and obscure phrasing 
of the octave prevent the general effect from being what it 
should be. The sestet contains the proud lines: 

". . . thou art dead asleep; 

Thy life is but two dead eternities 
The last in air, the former in the deep; 

First with the whales, last with eagle-skies " 

The final two lines, however (which I do not quote), are 
weak and inadequate, and drop the tone once more. 

Saturday morning was begun with the usual trudge to 
breakfast, this time of eight miles to Kirkoswald. In the 
short rest which the travellers always seem to have allowed 
themselves after breakfast, Keats continued his letter to 
Tom begun at Ballantrae,and again his theme is the differ- 
ence between the Scotch and Irish characters; it is amusing 
here to see that Keats was so thorough-going an English- 
man as to experience considerable difficulty in understand- 
ing the Irish, although at the same time noting with much 
shrewdness certain of their prominent traits. He is careful 
to say that he is speaking of the common people only, as 



44 JOHN KEATS 

he knows nothing of the higher classes. His analysis, which 
I give entire, is: 

"As to the Trofanum vulgus' I must incline to the 
Scotch. They never laugh but they are always com- 
paratively neat and clean. Their constitutions are not so 
remote and puzzling as the Irish. The Scotchman will never 
give a decision on any point he will never commit him- 
self in a sentence which may be referred to as a meridian in 
his notion of things so that you do not know him and 
yet you may come in nigher neighbourhood to him than to 
the Irishman who commits himself in so many places that 
it dazes your head. A Scotchman's motive is more easily 
discovered than an Irishman's. A Scotchman will go wisely 
about to deceive you, an Irishman cunningly. An Irish- 
man would bluster out of any discovery to his disad- 
vantage. A Scotchman would retire perhaps without 
much desire for revenge. An Irishman likes to be thought 
a gallous fellow. A Scotchman is contented with himself. 
It seems to me they are both sensible of the Character 
they hold in England and act accordingly to Englishmen. 
Thus the Scotchman will become over grave and over de- 
cent and the Irishman over-impetuous. I like a Scotch- 
man best because he is less of a bore I like the Irishman 
best because he ought to be more comfortable. The 
Scotchman has made up his Mind with himself in a sort 
of snail shell wisdom. The Irishman is full of strongheaded 
instinct. The Scotchman is farther in Humanity than the 
Irishman there he will stick perhaps when the Irishman 
will be refined beyond him for the former thinks he 
cannot be improved the latter will grasp at it forever, 
place but the good plain before him." 

Scotchman Irishman here we have them in most 
excellent silhouette. Nobody who knows the two races will 
deny the verisimilitude of this portrayal; but there is a 
third nationality which peeps out of the background of the 
picture that of the Englishman who has drawn it. For 
Keats is here perfectly generic; if he is indubitably himself 
in the expression of his opinions, these same opinions, even 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 45 

to the being "puzzled" and "dazed" and finding Irish 
repartee a bore, are conclusively English. They bear the 
stamp of their origin for all to see. 

Fearful of missing anything, our eager tourists stretched 
out the four miles to Maybole by going out of their way to 
see a couple of ruins, one of them Crossraguel Abbey, 
where Keats was struck with "a winding Staircase to the 
top of a little Watch Tower." But this was all mere 
dalliance by the way, a rambling preliminary to the cottage 
where Burns was born. For Keats was determined that 
this cottage was to be one of his shrines. Writing to Rey- 
nolds from Maybole, he says: 

41 1 am approaching Burns's cottage very fast . . . One of 
the pleasantest means of annulling self is approaching such 
a shrine as the Cottage of Burns we need not think of 
his misery that is all gone, bad luck to it I shall look 
upon it hereafter with unmixed pleasure as I do upon my 
Stratford-on-Avon day with Bailey." 

The event, when it came, was not quite the perfect and 
thrilling joy he had expected. But the expectation was so 
keen that onward the friends went from Maybole to reach 
Ayr that night. Keats had expected Ayrshire to provide 
him with no sensation other than that received from 
Burns's cottage. In this he was agreeably disappointed. 
"O prejudice! " he cries, having found a kind of country of 
which he had not dreamed, "it was as rich as Devon." 
The approach to Ayr he considered "extremely fine 
quite outwent my expectations richly meadowed, 
wooded, heathed and rivuleted with a grand Sea view 
terminated by the black Mountains of the isle of Annan." 
This view set him wondering how it was that such a pro- 
spect "did not beckon Burns to some grand attempt at 
Epic." Here, for once, his perspicacity failed him, for 
he should have realized that Burns was not of the epic 
temper. 



46 JOHN KEATS 

Keats's description of the entrance to Ayr is so vivid 
that I will transcribe it: 

"We came down upon everything suddenly there 
were on our way the 'bonny Doon,' with the Brig that 
Tarn o f Shanter crossed, Kirk Alloway, Burns's Cottage, 
and the Brigs of Ayr. First we stood upon the Bridge 
across the Doon ; surrounded by every Phantasy of green in 
Tree, Meadow, and Hill, the stream of the Doon, as a 
Farmer told us, is covered with trees ' from head to foot ' 
you know those beautiful heaths so fresh against the 
weather of a summer's evening there was one stretching 
along behind the trees." 

This Keats wrote to Reynolds. In another account, sent 
to his brother Tom, he calls the Doon " the sweetest river I 
ever saw overhung with fine trees as far as we could see." 
At last came the Cottage! The mystic shrine which was 
to live in his memory forever as the generator of a pleasure 
little short of absolute. Poor Keats! He took no note of 
the fact that to receive such an impression as he craved, to 
undergo the keen sensations for which he was hungering, 
demands a physical energy powerful enough to respond to 
the given stimulus. But here he was, at the end of a long 
day during which he had traversed something over twenty- 
one miles on foot. He may not have felt tired, but clearly 
he was, so tired that his nerves were on edge, and the 
garrulous old caretaker at the cottage whose garrulity, 
by the way, being in the broadest Scotch, made his gossip 
almost incomprehensible nearly drove him mad. This 
old caretaker had known Burns, and his remarks might 
have been interesting, but somehow Keats did not find 
them so in the main. " Damn him and damn his anecdotes 
he was a great bore," is Keats's harassed comment. 
So he puts it to Tom; to Reynolds, he is more explicit: 

"We went to the Cottage and took some Whisky. I 
wrote a sonnet for the mere sake of writing some lines 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 47 

under the roof they are so bad I cannot transcribe them. 
The Man at the Cottage was a great Bore with his anec- 
dotes I hate the rascal his life consists in fuzz, fuzzy, 
fuzziest. He drinks glasses five for the Quarter and twelve 
for the hour x he is a mahogany-faced old Jackass who 
knew Burns. He ought to have been kicked for having 
spoken to him ... O the flummery of a birthplace! Cant! 
cant! cant! It is enough to give a spirit the guts-ache. 
Many a true word, they say, is spoken in jest this may 
be because his gab hindered my sublimity: the flat dog 
made me write a flat sonnet/' 

A watched pot never boils, and forced poetry usually 
does no more than crawl along the ground of prose on its 
belly. It was foolishness extraordinary to set his fagged 
brain to work composing poetry when he was in no mood 
for it. But we have already noticed 2 his constant desire 
to write in places whose associations intrigued him. He 
was under no illusion as to the merit of his sonnet, as this 
passage shows, and he says the same thing to Tom: "I was 
determined to write a sonnet in the Cottage and I did 
but it was so bad I cannot venture it here." Before a week 
was over, he had torn it up, but not before Brown had 
copied it, a fact which he seems not to have known. 

Considering the connection in his mind between Burns's 
cottage, and Shakespeare's house at Strat ford-on- A von, 
it is not strange to find that this sonnet is written in the 
Shakespearian form. Rossetti thought the sonnet "a fine 
thing," and Lord Hough ton was of the opinion that "The 
local colour is strong in it ... and its geniality would have 
delighted the object of its admiration." I find it none of 
these things, but on the contrary laboured and impatient; 
indeed I think one of its lines: 

" Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal " 
aptly describes it. But what really upset Keats about it 

1 Misquoted from Coleridge's Christabel. J See Vol. I, p. 55 2 - 



48 JOHN KEATS 

was that he intended it to be, not full of local colour, not 
reminiscent of "Willie brewed a peck o' mau't," but a 
tribute to those sides of Burns which transcended his mor- 
tal frailties, and from this point of view the sonnet is a 
dead failure. 

The next two days were spent in getting to Glasgow. 
The journey seems to have been broken at Kilmarnock, 
for Keats tells Reynolds that the rain has stopped them at 
the end of a dozen miles, and on Monday, July thirteenth, 
he writes from Kingswell to Tom. Kingswell is nine miles 
beyond Kilmarnock by the old coach road, and the way- 
farers probably stopped there for breakfast or dinner, as 
they were certainly in Glasgow that night, which was 
twelve miles farther on. In tracing Keats's route and the 
things he did in Scotland, it is important to remember that 
meal-times were divided very differently in 1818 from 
what they are now. Keats and Brown seem to have started 
the day at about five in the morning, as we have seen, 
breakfastless. The ordinary breakfast hour of the period 
was about nine A.M., dinner was partaken of at three or 
four, and a third meal, which Keats usually calls " tea," but 
which most of the world called "supper," came along quite 
late, generally at nine in the evening. The long Summer 
days in a latitude so far North as Scotland meant that it 
was light until far into the evening, even in London in 
July twilight does not end until eleven P.M. On Monday, 
July thirteenth, 1818, the sun did not set until after eight 
o'clock. It was probably, therefore, in full daylight that 
Brown and Keats " entered Glasgow last evening under the 
most impressive Stare a body could feel." This was written 
on July fourteenth, so we know that Glasgow was reached 
on Monday, the thirteenth. 

The two dusty young fellows, with their obvious air of 
having walked long and far, seem to have greatly intrigued 
those Glaswegians who happened to encounter them that 
evening. Keats says: "When we had crossed the Bridge 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 49 

Brown look'd back and said its whole population] had 
turned [out] to wonder at us/' and he tells of a drunken 
man who declared that " he had seen all foreigners bu-u-ut 
he never saw the like o' me," and was only shaken off by 
being threatened with the police. That they were a queer 
looking pair can be clearly seen by Brown's description of 
himself sent in a letter to Mr. Dilke senior. "An odd 
fellow," he calls himself, "and moreover an odd figure; 
imagine me with a thick stick in my hand, the knapsack on 
my back, ' with spectacles on my nose,' a white hat, a tartan 
coat and trowsers, and a Highland plaid thrown over my 
shoulders! Don't laugh at me, there's a good fellow, 
although Mr. Keats calls me the Red Cross Knight, and 
declares my own shadow is ready to split its sides as it 
follows me." Keats wore a plaid and a fur cap this last 
a sufficiently odd choice in head-gear for the middle of 
Summer, he says that he only met one other such through- 
out his travels and he also carried the inevitable and 
mystifying knapsack. 

The next morning they saw the cathedral " they have 
devilled it into 'High Kirk,' " remarks Keats with pungent 
emphasis and presumably went on their way in the 
afternoon; but at this point the days become confused, and 
we can only state that they followed the banks of the Clyde 
to Dumbarton, and from there turned due North to Loch 
Lomond. Here the sight of the solitary steam-boat which 
plied to and fro on the lake for the benefit of tourists, and 
the carriages of sightseers on its shores, brought forth from 
Keats the very natural complaint: "Steam Boats on Loch 
Lomond and Barouches on its sides take a little from the 
Pleasure of such romantic chaps as Brown and I." Going 
along up the West side of Loch Lomond, they seem to have 
reached Tarbet on Wednesday evening, July fifteenth. 
Of this part of the Lake, Keats says: 

"The north end of Loch Lomond grand in excess the 
entrance at the lower end to the narrow part from a little 



50 JOHN KEATS 

distance is precious good the Evening was beautiful 
nothing could surpass our fortune in the weather yet 
was I worldly enough to wish for a fleet of chivalry Barges 
with Trumpets and Banners just to die away before me 
into that blue place among the mountains." 

Here follows a sketch, which Sir Sidney Colvin recognizes 
as taken from a spot near Tarbet. 

Tar bet Inn was the usual point of departure for an ascent 
of Ben Lomond, but this most lauded excursion Keats and 
Brown did not make, the price of a boat across the lake 
and a guide up the mountain proving sufficient deterrents. 
Here, indeed, the pedestrians were in the route of fashion- 
able excursionists, and prices were according to the traffic, 
which in the height of Summer was considerable. Doubt- 
less the two young men did not have the appearance of 
being over prolific in tips, and things were not made easy 
for them. My grandfather records in his journal an ex- 
perience which gives us a clear idea of the hierarchy of 
travellers in the eyes of Scotch innkeepers of the period. 
Passing over the same route which Keats had just traversed, 
but in inverse order, my grandfather posted a part of the 
way. The result of this method of travelling was, he de- 
clares, that "at every inn where we alighted, there were 
six waiters and as many chambermaids, to help us out of 
the chaise. Had we been coach passengers, we should at 
most have seen of these worthies little more than their 
backs." As the greater part of my grandfather's journey 
was made by coach, he knew whereof he spoke. The hier- 
archy aforesaid consisted, first and foremost, of people in 
their own carriages; second, of post-chaise travellers; and 
third, of coach passengers. Wayfarers on foot were neither 
expected nor welcomed, and we may be certain that in this 
much frequented part of the Highlands Keats and Brown 
met with scant consideration. 

Thursday, July sixteenth, seems to have been partly 
spent in strolling about the shores of Loch Lomond, for 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 51 

Keats consoles himself for not going up Ben Lomond by 
the fact of "a half a day of rest being quite acceptable." 
It is interesting to note, as between the man of his period 
and the man ahead of his period, that my grandfather's 
account of this country is all asterisked over with quota- 
tions from Walter Scott's poems, while Keats never once 
alludes to them in any way. 

As if to make up for the unwonted rest, by four the next 
morning Keats and Brown were up and off, intending to 
breakfast at the top of a glen nine miles on their road, 
where Brown's Itinerary mentioned a place called "Rest 
and be thankful." Arrived at the spot, to their dismay it 
turned out to be, not an inn, as they had assumed, but a 
stone seat, so they were obliged to foot it another five miles 
through another "Tremendous Glen" to what Keats calls 
"Cairn-something," which was probably what is now the 
Cairndow Hotel at the Head of Loch Fyne. Fourteen 
miles is a pretty stiff tramp before breakfast, but the effort 
had not been without its compensations. The glens were 
beautiful in the extreme, and coming through Glenside, 
says Keats, "it was early in the morning and we were 
pleased with the noise of Shepherds, Sheep and dogs in the 
misty heights close above us we saw none of them for 
some time, till two came in sight creeping among the 
Crags like Emmets, yet their voices came quite plainly to 
us." It is in passages such as this that we see Keats's 
sensitiveness to impressions, which I have so often insisted 
upon, at its highest pitch. Nothing pertinent to the crea- 
tion of atmosphere escaped him, and it is just these sudden 
flashes which make the Scotch letters interesting. 

At Cairndow, the wanderers made their usual after- 
breakfast pause, during which Keats took a bath in Loch 
Fyne and got badly stung by gad-flies, an experience which 
produced from his irate soul a set of doggerel stanzas on 
the gad-fly. He also began a letter to Tom. Late in the 
afternoon, the friends rounded the top of Loch Fyne and 



52 JOHN KEATS 

proceeded to Inverary, where they stopped for the night. 
On the way thither, they passed the Duke of Argyle's 
castle, which, with its surroundings, Keats describes in 
two words another of his swift, sure tricks of delineation: 

"The Duke of Argyle's Castle is very modern magnifi- 
cent and more so from the place it is in the woods seem 
old enough to remember two or three changes in the Crags 
about them the Lake was beautiful and there was a 
band at a distance by the Castle. I must say I enjoyed two 
or three common tunes but nothing could stifle the 
horrors of a solo on the Bag-pipe I thought the beast 
would never have done." 

One might suppose that the day had contained enough 
to satisfy even the insatiable ardour of twenty-two. By no 
means. Seeing a play bill as they entered the town, which 
announced to all and sundry that that most beloved piece 
of the period, The Stranger, was to be performed in a near- 
by barn, Keats, leaving Brown who was " knocked up from 
new shoes" to repose in the inn, repaired thither and 
witnessed the well-known play to the intermittent accom- 
paniment of another bagpipe. Famous though the play 
was, Keats had never seen it before, had not even read it, 
and his modernity and good taste are much in evidence in 
his criticism of it. "Not the Bag-pipe," he exclaims, "nor 
the wretched players themselves were little in compari- 
son with it thank heaven it has been scoffed at lately 
almost to a fashion." The bagpipe and The Stranger set 
Keats off upon an ironic sonnet, usually known as On Hear- 
ing the Bag-pipe, composed either that night or the next 
morning. The irony is enhanced by his choosing for it the 
Shakespearian form. 

The next day, Saturday, July eighteenth, Brown's feet 
were in such a state that walking was not to be thought of, 
but he and Keats were consoled by the arrival of a thunder- 
storm which would have prevented them from going on in 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 53 

any case. Keats spent the day in letter writing, first to 
Tom and then to Bailey. 

This letter to Bailey is extremely important, for it re- 
veals a side of Keats on which he is usually peculiarly 
reticent, but which seems to have occupied him not a little 
at the time. Before coming to that, however, there is an- 
other little flash of self-revelation, which, as he wrote it, 
was part actual fact, part camouflage, and part un- 
doubtedly a persuasion of himself that what he wished had 
indeed happened. To understand the significance of the 
passage, we must remember two things. The first is the 
letter from Burford Bridge to Bailey in which Keats speaks 
of his changing moods; 1 the second is the letter of June 
tenth to the same correspondent, that terrible letter of 
grief and discouragement, written just after George's 
marriage, in which Keats gazed open-eyed at the future 
and saw only misery ahead. 2 Evidently Keats's confession 
of himself had greatly distressed Bailey. What Bailey had 
said to him about the matter, we do not know, but this is 
certainly his reply to it: 

"And here, Bailey, I will say a few words written in a 
sane and sober mind, a very scarce thing with me, for they 
may, hereafter, save you a great deal of trouble about me, 
which you do not deserve, and for which I ought to be 
bastinadoed. I carry all matters to an extreme so that 
when I have any little vexation, it grows in five minutes 
into a theme for Sophocles. Then, and in that temper, if I 
write to any friend, I have so little self-possession that I 
give him matter for grieving, at the very time perhaps 
when I am laughing at a Pun. Your last letter made me 
blush for the pain I had given you I know my own dis- 
position so well that I am certain of writing many times 
hereafter in the same strain to you now you know how 
far to believe in them. You must allow for Imagination. 
I know I shall not be able to help it." 

That Keats understood himself quite well in this par- 
1 See Vol. I, p. 524. * See Vol. II, p. 10. 



54 JOHN KEATS 

ticular, we have seen again and again so much for the 
actual fact of the passage; that George's departure for 
America for life and Tom's serious illness could come under 
the head of "little vexations " even to his changed mood, it 
is ridiculous to suppose, this making light of events and his 
own past expressions in regard to them is the part which I 
have called camouflage, and leads us to the persuasion of 
himself which I have said is also here. The Scotch tramp 
had been tonic, and the bracing in nerves and point of view 
which he had undergone had certainly dulled the acuteness 
of his misery, but that he had been as entirely cured of his 
melancholy as he appears by his words to be is not likely, 
much as he wished to believe it. It was happily overlaid 
for the moment, and he had no wish to probe himself on the 
subject. 

For the second, more important revelation, we must 
again recollect back and remind ourselves of Keats's grow- 
ing irritation with the Reynolds girls. 1 He had felt it be- 
fore his departure for Devonshire, and it would appear 
from this letter to Bailey that on his return to Hampstead 
he had found himself so out of love with them as practically 
to give up going to the Reynoldses' house. That Reynolds 
himself was as much his friend as ever, we know; and there 
is no sign that Reynolds resented his behaviour. Not so 
Bailey, who seems to have remonstrated vigorously with 
Keats on his altered attitude. A nice bit of irony, had 
Keats but been able to see into the future, for Bailey was 
about to submit to an alteration in his own attitude toward 
the Reynoldses, and Marianne in particular, much more 
dire than that of Keats could ever be. 2 When Keats was 
writing this letter from Inverary, Bailey's grand defection 
had probably taken place; but of this, Keats knew nothing. 

Keats's answer to Bailey's strictures is as follows: 

8 " I am sorry you are grieved at my not continuing my 

1 See Vol. I, p. 587. * See Vol. I, pp. 478-479- 

1 This passage differs slightly from the printed version, having been 
corrected from the original letter in my possession. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 55 

visits to Little Britain. Yet I think I have as far as a Man 
can do who has Books to read and subjects to think upon 

for that reason I have been no where else except to 
Wentworth Place so nigh at hand moreover I have been 
too often in a state of health that made me think it prudent 
not to hazard the night air. Yet, further, I will confess to 
you that I cannot enjoy Society, small or numerous. I am 
certain that our fair friends are glad I should come for the 
mere sake of my coming; but I am certain I bring with me 
a vexation they are better without. If I can possibly at any 
time feel my temper coming upon me I refrain even from a 
promised visit. I am certain I have not a right feeling 
towards women at this moment I am striving to be just 
to them, but I cannot. Is it because they fall so far be- 
neath my boyish Imagination? When I was a schoolboy I 
thought a fair woman a pure Goddess; my mind was a soft 
nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it 
not. I have no right to expect more than their reality I 
thought them ethereal above men I find them perhaps 
equal great by comparison is very small. Insult may be 
inflicted in more ways than by word or action. One who is 
tender of being insulted does not like to think an insult 
against another. I do not like to think insults in a lady's 
company I commit a crime with her which absence 
would not have known. Is it not extraordinary? when 
among men, I have no evil thoughts, no malice, no spleen 

I feel free to speak or be silent I can listen, and from 
every one I can learn my hands are in my pockets, I am 
free from all suspicion and comfortable. When I am among 
women, I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen I cannot 
speak, or be silent I am full of suspicions, and therefore 
listen to nothing I am in a hurry to be gone. You must 
be charitable and put all this perversity to my being dis- 
appointed since my boyhood. Yet with such feelings I am 
happier alone among crowds of men, by myself, or with a 
friend or two. With all this, trust me Bailey I have not 
the least idea that men of different feelings and inclinations 
are more short-sighted than myself. I never rejoiced more 
than at my Brother's marriage, and shall do so at that of 
any of my friends. I must absolutely get over this but 



56 JOHN KEATS 

how? the only way is to find the root of the evil, and so 
cure it 'with backward mutterings of dissevering power' 
that is a difficult thing; for an obstinate Prejudice can 
seldom be produced but from a gordian complication of 
feelings, which must take time to unravel, and care to keep 
unravelled. I could say a good deal about this, but I will 
leave it, in hopes of better and more worthy dispositions 
and also content that I am wronging no one, for after all I 
do think better of womankind than to suppose they care 
whether Mister John Keats five feet high likes them or not. 1 
You appeared to wish to avoid any words on this subject 
don't think it a bore my dear fellow, it shall be my 
Amen." 

Of course Keats's malaise in the presence of women was 
merely the reverse of a ripening sexual instinct. Such 
mauvaise honte is a very common phenomenon of adoles- 
cence. Most boys experience something of the sort at about 
sixteen. Keats's peculiarity is that, with him, it held off un- 
til he was twenty-two, and, coming so late, found a brain 
and senses so far matured beyond it as to give the instinct 
itself a touch of tragedy by presenting it to the consciousness 
all tangled up with thoughts, and reflections, and introspec- 
tions, which the boy in his 'teens is happily without. There 
is undoubtedly truth in Keats's belief that his love for his 
Brothers had prevented any woman from making a deep 
impression upon him, as he had told Bailey some six weeks 
before; 2 but it is also true that Keats had to mature many 
sides of himself. We have seen his progress from boyhood. 
We have watched, first, the growth of his poetical power, 
then, later, the development of his thinking capacity, his 
quality of reasoning, the increase of his intellectual curiosity. 
The last part of his personality to come to man's estate was 
the sexual. Fleeting sexual attractions, he had known; but 
he had always been clear headed enough to recognize their 
superficiality. Intellectually he had perfectly apprehended 

i See Vol. I, p. 96. See Vol. II, p. 10. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 57 

the dual quality of love, as I have shown in my analysis of 
Endymion, but when in actual life the significance of 
woman as the corresponding sex presented itself to him, he 
failed to recognize what was happening. With the banish- 
ment of momentary lust as a sufficient satisfaction, what 
he received in compensation was not the realization of any 
specific need for love in its entirety as embodied in any 
known woman, but a sudden suspicion of all women be- 
cause of his altered awareness of them, shorn as this was of 
the corrective of strong individual attraction. The stage 
was being set for Fanny Brawne, although of such a 
condition in himself he had no idea. Sexual psychology 
was not in the least understood a century ago. The quasi- 
knowledge of the subject possessed by other and older 
civilizations had long been lost. Keats's utter ignorance of 
what was the matter with him seems strange in this super- 
sexualized beginning of the twentieth century, when every 
school-boy babbles Freud, and, if we think we know much 
more than we do, at least no young person is likely to 
consider a given condition as not due to the sexual instinct 
when it is. If Keats had been able " to find the root of the 
evil," he would have been much better equipped to cope 
with his love for Fanny Brawne when it came; but this root 
was just what he could not find. Sex, the world under- 
stood; but not the connection of sex with mental phenom- 
ena. So Keats groped, shocked at himself, and remained in 
ignorance, confessing everything to Bailey as was his wont 
Bailey, the last man who could help him under the 
circumstances. Bailey, as Keats said later, loved like a 
ploughman, and pursued the changing objects of his desire 
with a satyr-like lack of deviousness. At the time of Keats's 
writing, his last quarry had fallen into his arms, and he 
was, if not yet the accepted, certainly the encouraged, lover 
of Miss Gleig. 

As a sort of addenda to what he considered his prejudiced 
view of womankind, Keats wrote immediately after it: 



58 JOHN KEATS 

"I should not have consented to myself these four 
months tramping in the highlands, but that I thought 
it would give me more experience, rub off more preju- 
dice, use to more hardships, identify finer scenes, load me 
with grander mountains, and strengthen more my reach in 
Poetry, than would stopping at home among books, even 
though I should reach Homer." 

Probably he was right; but one can have too much of any- 
thing, and fatigue is a great discountenancer. That his 
eager response to the scenery was becoming a little dulled 
by habit, can be seen in this sentence: 

"By this time I am comparatively a Mountaineer. I 
have been among wilds and mountains too much to break 
out much about their grandeur. I have fed upon oat-cake 
not long enough to be very much attached to it. The 
first mountains I saw, though not so large as some I have 
seen since, weighed very solemnly upon me. The effect is 
wearing away yet I like them mainly." 

Keats was a gallant and loyal soul, and it never seems to 
have crossed his mind that the trip for him had passed its 
meridian and that to continue it was, considering the 
coarse and monotonous food which was all that was ob- 
tainable in the roadside taverns on the way, an imprudence. 
He was pledged for the Summer to Brown and pedestrian- 
ism, and had no intention of changing his plans. His diges- 
tion began to suffer, and no wonder. On Sunday, July 
nineteenth, the friends trudged twenty miles down the 
side of Loch Awe; Brown, with his feet blistered, scarcely 
able to walk. Where they spent the night, we do not 
know, but their supper consisted of eggs and oat-cake. 
"We have lost the sight of white bread entirely," bemoans 
Keats; and, concerning the supper, he exclaims: "Now we 
had eaten nothing but Eggs all day about 10 a piece and 
they had become sickening." Things were not always as 
bad as this, on Monday they managed to procure "a small 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 59 

Chicken and even a good bottle of Port" somewhere, but 
Keats admits " all together the fare is too coarse I feel it 
a little." Still the walk had been beautiful: "We had come 
along a complete mountain road, where if one listened 
there was not a sound but that of Mountain Streams," 
writes Keats, and "The approach to Loch Awe was very 
solemn towards nightfall the first glance was a streak of 
water deep in the Bases of large black mountains." Near- 
ing the sea, Keats once again becomes enthusiastic: "the 
distant Mountains in the Hebrides very grand, the Salt- 
water Lakes coming up between Crags and Islands full tide 
and scarcely ruffled." They also saw "an Eagle or two." 
"They move about without the least motion of Wings 
when in an indolent fit," his always alert observation 
announces. 

Monday night seems to have been passed, for a wonder, 
in a comfortable inn, but where it stood is not stated. How 
comfortable this inn was, we can infer by its furnishings, 
among which was a table, " a nice flapped Mahogany one." 
"There is a Gaelic Testament on the Drawers in the next 
room," Keats adds, and does not fail to notice that "White 
and blue China ware has crept all about here." This last is 
an illuminating touch, and gives us the period in a nutshell. 
For where was the inn or well-to-do farmer's house through- 
out the length and breadth of Great Britain at the begin- 
ning of the nineteenth century, to which the blue and white 
pottery plates of the indefatigable Wedgwood had not 
penetrated. They were a symbol of the period, although, of 
course, the period never looked upon them in any such 
light. 

Reaching Oban on Tuesday, the twenty-first, in a soak- 
ing rain, their first thought was that here was the place to 
embark for the Island of Staffa, where was Fingal's Cave 
which they were most anxious to see, the more so, un- 
doubtedly, because they had missed the Giant's Causeway. 
On making inquiries, however, they found once again that 



60 JOHN KEATS 

this was a popular excursion, and the boat price in con- 
sequence had mounted to the extortionate sum of seven 
guineas. This was a baffler, and they reluctantly decided to 
give up Staffa and go straight on next day to Fort William. 
Having come to this decision, they were ruefully trying to 
digest it, when in came one of the men of whom they had 
been making inquiries. This astute person suggested that 
the cheapest way to reach Staffa was to take the ferry which 
ran between Oban and the Island of Kerrara, and at 
Kerrara shift to another ferry plying from Kerrara to Mull. 
He offered himself as guide across the latter island, at the 
Southwestern end of which, he declared, a boat could be 
hired for the short distance to Staffa and back. After some 
haggling, a bargain was struck, and the next day, Wednes- 
day, the friends and their optimistic guide ferried, first 
to Kerrara, and then to Mull, the last crossing of nine 
miles being accomplished "in forty minutes with a fine 
Breeze." 

Mull was almost totally unfrequented by travellers, the 
trip to Staffa and return being usually made entirely by 
water, in the boat of prohibitive prices. Their first day's 
experience is described by Keats to Tom thus: 

"The road through the Island, or rather the track, is the 
most dreary you can think of between dreary Moun- 
tains over bog and rock and river with our Breeches 
tucked up and our Stockings in hand. About eight o'Clock 
we arrived at a shepherd's Hut into which we could scarcely 
get for the Smoke through a door lower than my shoulders. 
We found our way into a little compartment with the 
rafters and turf thatch blackened with smoke the earth 
floor full of Hills and Dales. We had some white Bread 
with us, made a good supper and slept in our Clothes in 
some Blankets." 

The following morning, July twenty-third, they walked 
six miles to a place set down by Keats as Dun an cullen, 
which both Buxton Forman and Sir Sidney Colvin think 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 61 

may have been Derrynacullen. Here Keats began another 
letter to Tom, and finished the one begun at Inverary to 
Bailey. After finishing Bailey's letter, he proceeded to 
cross it with a poem, the genesis of which he gives by say- 
ing that he has destroyed the wretched sonnet written in 
Burns's cottage, but that "a few days afterwards I wrote 
some lines cousin-german to the circumstance, which I will 
transcribe." The poem is Lines written in the Highlands 
after a Visit to Burns's Country. 

When were these Lines written? Unfortunately, we have 
really no clue to guide us to any sort of determination on 
the subject. I am inclined to attribute them to the nice 
flapped Mahogany table in the nameless inn on account of 
the line: 

"Eagles may seem to sleep wing wide upon the Air," 

which seems to establish a connection with his mention of 
eagles to Tom in the letter written on that same table. 
This is the first time that he speaks of eagles, and the 
passage reads as though it were the first time that he had 
seen any. But, on the other hand, the scenery of the poem 
is clearly not that of the country he was then traversing. 
The first line: 

41 There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain," 

does not refer to any spot gone over in the days im- 
mediately preceding his sojourn in the inn of the flapped 
table. Exactly what place, or type of place, the poem 
describes, I leave for those familiar with the ground to fer- 
ret out. For me, who have never been in that part of the 
Scotch Highlands, such ferreting is impossible. It is but 
fair to say, however, that a poet has no need to be in the 
place that he is describing. I have already pointed out, in 
the chapter on Endymion^ that reminiscence is a potent 

1 See Vol. I, p. 388. 



62 JOHN KEATS 

factor in creative art. That Keats was far from any 
"silent plain," is rather more a reason for his writing of one 
than not. 

The first part of the poem is excellent description; just 
this and no more. Nowhere throughout it do we find the 
slightest hint of Keats's usual charm when dealing with 
nature, not once is there a single flash of his genius for 
evocation. The plod of his feet is echoed in his lines, and 
we cannot suppress the conviction that the poem was 
written, not because he could not resist it, but because he 
wanted to try again to write something about Burns to take 
the taste of his unsuccessful sonnet out of his mouth. The 
end is a didactic presentation of the giddiness produced 
by a contemplation of life's futility in the midst of heroic 
and rather forbidding scenery. A curious thing about the 
poem, and perhaps its chief interest, is the fact that it is 
written in a very old English measure the septenary, 
called so because it has seven beats, or fourteen syllables, 
to a line. In its unbroken form, as here, it is not very 
common in recent English poetry, although both Words- 
worth and Mrs. Browning wrote rhymed septenaries, but 
when each line is divided into two, the first having four 
beats and the last three, it becomes the regular ballad 
stanza; in its broken form, it is also much employed by the 
writers of hymns. Keats's familiarity with it in the original 
long line may have come from many sources, but un- 
doubtedly the chief of these, for him, was Chapman's trans- 
lation of the Odyssey. Keats himself does not seem to have 
been over pleased with these Lines for he never again refers 
to them to any one, at least not in the letters which have 
come down to us. 

To return to the Island of Mull. It was thirty-seven 
miles across from where the ferry landed the travellers to 
the tip end of the Ross of Mull, whither they were bound. 
We have already seen what Keats had to say of the first 
day, here is what Brown says of all the days: 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 63 

1 " I must not think of the wind, and the sun, and the rain, 
after our journey to the Island of Mull. There's a wild 
place! Thirty-seven miles of jumping and flinging over 
great stones along no path at all, up the steep and down the 
steep, and wading through rivulets up to the knees, and 
crossing a bog, a mile long, up to the ankles." 

To add to all this discomfort, Keats caught a cold which 
flew to his throat. On they struggled, however, somewhat 
cheered by the guide's singing of Gaelic songs, and in due 
time reached the coast directly opposite the Island of lona. 
Crossing the narrow strip of water to this island, they paid 
a visit to the ruins of the great cathedral church still stand- 
ing there. Keats was greatly impressed by these ruins. I 
only wish there were space to quote his account of them, 
sent to Tom, but it is too long. At lona, the friends 
bargained for a boat to take them to Staffa and land them 
afterwards at the head of Loch na Keal, from which place 
the distance back to the ferry would be reduced by at least 
one half. 

Fingal's Cave in the Island of Staffa was a new sensation, 
and amply repaid Keats for the abominable tramp across 
Mull. Neither his fatigue nor his sore throat could dampen 
his delight. "Suppose now," he says, in an effort to give 
Tom some idea of the place, "the Giants who rebelled 
against Jove had taken a whole Mass of black Columns and 
bound them together like bunches of matches and then 
with immense Axes had made a cavern in the body of these 
columns of course the roof and floor must be composed 
of the broken ends of the Columns such is fingal's Cave 
except that the Sea has done the work of excavations and 
is continually dashing there so that we walk along the 
sides of the cave on the pillars which are left as if for con- 
venient stairs." So much for the contour of the place; but 
for the colour, Keats, rare colourist that he was, misses no 
shade of it. He says: " the colour of the columns is a sort of 

1 Quoted by Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



64 JOHN KEATS 

black with a lurking gloom of purple therein," which is al- 
most a poem as it stands. His complete impression of the 
cave he sums up in a sentence : " For solemnity and grandeur 
it far surpasses the finest Cathedral." Another of his 
sentences I must give for its vividness, and also, again, its 
colour: "As we approached in the boat there was such a 
fine swell of the sea that the pillars appeared rising im- 
mediately out of the crystal." His conclusion, however, is 
that "it is impossible to describe it." Having given up 
description, he takes to poetry and symbolism, and tran- 
scribes the poem known as Staffa. In Staffa, Lycidas is 
conjured up as the custodian of this great sea cathedral, 
consecrated to, and built by, Oceanus. The poem, without 
being really very memorable, has an undeniable charm, and 
it has more, for somehow it gives a perfect impression of 
water dashing against wet stone. It smells of dampness, 
and rings thunderous with waves. At the end, Keats's fit of 
creation suddenly deserted him, and the six lines im- 
mediately preceding the last two descend into something 
little better than doggerel. 

The Staffa day was bright and sunny, or at least it be- 
came so at the very moment when the travellers sighted 
the island, a welcome contrast to the weather they had been 
having. Dolphins circled up out of the water, and the sun 
glinted on the waves. All this was new not moun- 
tain, nor lake, nor heather new, and Keats reacted 
accordingly. 

With Staffa, the objective of the excursion from Oban 
was reached, and back the friends came, by foot and ferry, 
to that town, where they seem to have arrived on the eve- 
ning of Saturday, July twenty-fifth. Keats's throat was 
giving him a good deal of trouble, although he only says of 
it: "I have a slight sore throat and think it best to stay a 
day or two at Oban." But his fatigue is very evident in 
this remark to Tom: "I assure you I often long for a seat 
and a Cup o' tea at Well Walk especially now that 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 65 

mountains, castles and Lakes are becoming common to me 
yet I would rather summer it out, for on the whole I am 
happier than when I have time to be glum perhaps it 
may cure me." 

How many days the "day or two" were in actual fact, is 
a blank, but by Saturday, August first, the pair were at 
Fort William, from which place they made the ascent of 
Ben Nevis on Sunday, the second. Keats's madness in sub- 
mitting himself to such a strain in his fatigued condition is 
easily accounted for by realizing that no young fellow of 
twenty-two likes to admit himself too tired to keep up with 
his companions. Brown's foolishness in permitting Keats 
to go, is another thing. But Brown was unaccustomed to 
considering his own health, which never wanted considera- 
tion, and probably, also, he believed Keats's statement that 
his throat was "in a fair way of getting well," this he told 
Tom the next day, but such indeed was not the case. Mad- 
ness and folly, the ascent of Ben Nevis certainly was, but 
up they went just the same. And what young man of 
spunk would have held back ? For again we must remember 
that Keats had no idea that his sore throats betokened any 
illness beyond themselves. 

The weather, which had treated them so considerately 
at Staffa, accorded them no such capricious indulgence 
during the ascent of Ben Nevis. When our travellers 
started, at about five o'clock in the morning, with their 
guide a gentleman attired, remarks Keats, with his 
indefatigable instinct for noting everything, " in Tartan and 
Cap," the day promised well; then, half-way up, the 
climbers suddenly walked into a mist, which obstinately 
clung to them thereafter in varying degrees of denseness. 
But here Keats shall retail his own experience: 

" I am heartily glad it is done it is almost like a fly 
crawling up a wainscoat. Imagine the task of mounting 
ten Saint Pauls without the convenience of Staircases. . . 
after much fag and tug and a rest and a glass of whiskey 



66 JOHN KEATS 

apiece we gained the top of the first rise and saw then a 
tremendous chap above us, which the guide said was still 
far from the top. After the first Rise our way lay along a 
heath valley in which there was a Loch after about a 
Mile in this Valley we began upon the next ascent, more 
formidable by far than the last, and kept mounting with 
short intervals of rest until we got above all vegitation, 
among nothing but loose Stones which lasted us to the very 
top the Guide said we had three Miles of a stony ascent 
we gained the first tolerable level after the valley to the 
height of what in the Valley we had thought the top and 
saw still above us another huge crag which still the Guide 
said was not the top to that we made with an obstinate 
fag, and having gained it there came on a Mist, so that from 
that part to the very top we walked in a Mist." 

Snow began to appear here and there. Every now and then, 
the party stopped, and Keats and Brown tumbled stones 
into the fissures between the rocks to hear the echoes 
reverberating up to them "in fine style." If the first part 
of the climb had seemed difficult, the loose stones of the 
last part were a thousand times more trying. Keats does 
full justice to the discomforts of the final pull to the summit 
in the letter to Tom from which I have been quoting: 

" I have said nothing yet of our getting on among the 
loose stones large and small sometimes on two, sometimes 
on three, sometimes on four legs sometimes two and 
stick, sometimes three and stick, then four again, then 
two, then a jump, so that we kept on ringing changes on 
foot, hand, stick, jump, boggle, stumble, foot, hand, foot 
(very gingerly), stick again and then again a game at all 
fours." 

Of course, to an experienced Alpine climber, the ascent of 
Ben Nevis (it is only a little over four thousand feet in 
height) is mere child's play at going up a mountain. But 
Keats and Brown, accustomed as they had become to 
tramping, were the veriest amateurs at mountaineering. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 67 

Remember, too, that Keats was suffering from the com- 
bined effects of a bad sore throat and indigestion. Re- 
member still farther that he was already a prey to tuber- 
culosis, little as he, or any one else, thought so at the time. 
If we steadily keep in mind these things, we shall quickly 
lose all desire to smile at his and Brown's belief that in 
climbing Ben Nevis they were performing quite a feat; on 
the contrary, seen in the light of the actual circumstances, 
the climb becomes tragic, and the whirling mists which 
encompassed them on their way, the grey wings of a 
hovering doom. 

After a time, the mists thinned and cleared, but still, 
every now and then, clouds swept over the mountain and 
obscured the view. To Keats, these swirling wreaths of 
cloud appeared as 

"large dome curtains which kept sailing about, opening 
and shutting at intervals here and there and everywhere: 
so that although we did not see one vast wide extent of 
prospect all round we saw something perhaps finer these 
cloudveils opening with a dissolving motion and showing 
us the mountainous region beneath as through a loophole 
these cloudy loopholes ever varying and discovering 
fresh prospect east, west, north and south. Then it was 
misty again, and again it was fair then puff came a cold 
breeze of wind and bared a craggy chap we had not seen 
though in close neighborhood. Every now and then we had 
overhead blue Sky clear and the sun pretty warm. n 

Keats attempts to give Tom "an Idea of the prospect 
from a large Mountain top." After saying that the summit 
seems to one standing upon it like a "stony plain which of 
course makes you forget you are on any but low ground," 
he proceeds to describe what he saw from there excellently, 
but in the veriest prose. All of a sudden his expression 
changes, and one of his peculiar spurts of imaginative 
presentation gushes over him. For here is the epitome of 
his sensations at the moment, in the last phrase: "but the 



68 JOHN KEATS 

most new thing of all is the sudden leap of the eye from the 
extremity of what appears a plain into so vast a distance." 

At the top, the party made a long halt, during which the 
guide, to whom the ascent of Ben Nevis was an every-day 
affair, told the incredulous friends that, only a few years 
before, a Mrs. Cameron, "50 years of age and the fattest 
woman in all Invernesshire" had managed to get up the 
mountain. "True she had her servants," says Keats, " but 
then she had herself." 

The idea of the portly Mrs. Cameron being pushed and 
hauled up the steep track which he and Brown had mounted 
with such difficulty, amused Keats greatly, and either then 
and there on the mountain, or the next day when he was 
writing to Tom, he scribbled down a jocose dialogue 
supposed to have been held between the mountain and the 
lady upon her arrival at the top. But Keats was really 
impressed by the grandeur of the mountain and his 
glimpses of the view. Surely here was a place which must 
inspire him ! The result, as we should expect, was a sonnet, 
and by no means a bad one, considering that this was an 
occasional piece Keats distinctly tells Tom that the 
sonnet was written on the top of Ben Nevis. Its marked 
importance, however, is biographical, for it shows that the 
speculations on the meaning of life, and of man's supreme 
ignorance on the subject, those speculations with which we 
are already so familiar, were still very actively pursuing 
him. He had reached no solution of the riddle, had not 
found even a working hypothesis of the kind which 
commonly goes by the name of religion. His profound 
doubt and confusion are given in the last lines of the Ben 
Nevis sonnet as follows: 

11 Here are the craggy stones beneath my feet, 
Thus much I know that, a poor witless elf, 

I tread on them, that all my eye doth meet 
Is mist and crag, not only on this height, 
But in the world of thought and mental might!" 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 69 

Going down the mountain proved to be even more 
wracking than climbing up it. "I felt it horribly," Keats 
tells Tom. "Twas the most vile descent shook me all to 
pieces. " 

After such an exertion, common-sense should have 
counselled the two young men to take another day or two's 
rest at Fort William, but common-sense seems to have 
deserted them at this juncture. With only such refresh- 
ment as a night's sleep could give them, they started the 
next day, Monday, August third. Sometime on that day, 
they stopped at Letterfinlay (called by Keats "Letter 
Findlay "), but whether or not they passed the night there 
it is impossible to tell. All that we know definitely of this 
lap of the journey is that on Thursday, August sixth, 
they were at Inverness, having probably got there the day 
before. 

Keats had told Tom in his letter of August third from 
Letterfinlay, that his sore throat was getting well, but if he 
had been deceived into thinking so, he had found out his 
mistake by the time he reached Inverness. So bad had his 
throat become, in fact, that he went to see a doctor, who 
told him at once, and succinctly, that he must forego the 
rest of the trip and get home as quickly as possible. "Mr. 
Keats/' writes Brown to Mr. Dilke senior, "is too unwell 
for fatigue and privation ... He caught a violent cold in 
the Isle of Mull, which, far from leaving him, has become 
worse, and the physician here thinks him too thin and 
fevered to proceed on our journey." This decision must 
have been a sudden one for, on August sixth, Keats wrote 
to Mrs. Wylie, and in that letter he says nothing of any 
immediate return, but by August eighth he was already 
on his way. 

Sometime before the separation, Keats and Brown 
visited the ruins of Beauly Abbey. At that time, these 
ruins were used as a burial place, and one very badly at- 
tended to, it would seem, as the young men were struck by 



70 JOHN KEATS 

the presence of a heap of bones and skulls which, probably 
with the intentional acquiescence of the guide, they took 
to be those of ancient monks. With this idea in mind, they 
wrote, either then or afterwards, a joint poem on the sub- 
ject, in which they conjured up the worthy owners of the 
skulls in quite an amusing fashion, and in one of Burns's 
favourite stanza forms. So little of this joint production 
was done by Keats, however, that we need only refer to 
it in passing. 1 

In the original plan of the trip, Inverness was to be the 
turning point of it. Having come up by the West coast, 
the pedestrians had intended to return Southward by an 
entirely different route, which would take them through 
Edinburgh and eventually land Keats in Cumberland, 
where he intended to stay for a few days with Bailey, just 
settled in a curacy near Carlisle. We may surmise that, at 
the bottom of his heart, Keats was not sorry to be ordered 
home by the quickest and most convenient means. How 
game he was, how anxious to "carry on" until the last 
moment, can be seen by the Beauly excursion. After all, 
what had already been accomplished was prodigious. 
Keats tells Mrs. Wylie that " Besides riding about 400, we 
have walked above 600 Miles." He is evidently counting 
from his start from London, but Brown says explicitly 
to Mr. Dilke; "I have already stumped away on my ten 
toes 642 miles." 

There was nowhere that a direct coach to London could 
be reached short of Glasgow or Edinburgh; even of what 
Gary 2 calls "provincial coaches," there were none as far 
North as Inverness. Horse-back or cart were the only 
means of locomotion to be had, and neither could be 
thought of for Keats, who must avoid any extra fatigue. 

1 The poem is printed in full in Sir Sidney Colvin's Life of John Keats. 
Third Edition. Appendix II. 

2 Gary's New Itinerary of the Great Roads throughout England and Wales, 
with many of the Principal Roads of Scotland. 1819. 



A WALKING TRIP TO SCOTLAND 71 

The alternative was to go by sea, and this Keats decided 
to do. A Cromarty smack, calling at Inverness on her way 
to London, offered him his opportunity, and on Saturday, 
August eighth, Keats bade good-bye to Brown, who was 
left behind to continue the tour as per schedule, and went 
on board. The trip was over, and its principal benefits to 
Keats had been to provide him with a bridge between the 
old order and the new, to give him Meg Merrilies, and fill 
him with impressions to be conjured up later for use in 
Hyperion, 

So, sailing down the coast, we may leave him, and look 
for a little while at events in Hampstead which preceded 
his return. 



CHAPTER IX 
SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 

AT first, after the departure of his brothers, things seemed 
to go well with Tom. That he was extremely homesick, 
there can be no doubt. On the very day that the travellers 
started, Tom was minded to fulfil a commission with 
which John had entrusted him. This was to write to 
Taylor and ask him to give a copy of Endymion to Severn, 
who would call for it. Everyone knows that the first acts 
of a person left behind by someone who is going on a 
journey, someone whose going leaves an inevitable blank, 
are those which connect him with the departed. For Tom 
to sit down at once and write John's request to Taylor, 
is a proof of the extent of his homesickness. Another proof 
lies in the fact that on certain of John's letters to Tom 
from Scotland, Tom indorsed the date when the letter was 
received and the date on which it was answered. He prob- 
ably did this on all the letters, but in many instances the 
indorsement has not come down to us. In those cases where 
it has, however, Tom answered the letter on the day that 
he received it. The day before he left for Scotland, Keats 
had written to Taylor, and, among other things, had 
asked a loan of books for Tom. How eagerly Tom longed 
for the books, and yet how much he feared that John's 
request for them had smacked of the importunate, can be 
seen by this wistful little postscript to his letter to Taylor: 

1 "On consideration it strikes me that you will not be 
able to let me have books to read your stock being as I 
should think mostly new and modern books." 

But Taylor was a thoroughly good fellow, and he had 
Woodhouse at his elbow to egg him on. On Tuesday eve- 

1 From the original unpublished letter. Author's Collection. 



74 JOHN KEATS 

ning, June thirtieth, Tom wrote again l thanking him for 
" the parcel of books/' and saying that he likes " ' Eustace's 
Tour' very much, and should be glad of the other books 
you have mentioned." On this day, he had just received 
John's first letter, and had sent it off on a round of in- 
spection beginning with Reynolds. That Keats's friends 
did their best for the lonely Tom, we know; Haslam seems 
to have been particularly kind, and Wells, although his 
attentions took a mischievous and even cruel turn, was, 
very likely, merely trying to amuse his sick friend. I shall 
tell the story of his grievous "joke" presently. Sometime 
during the Summer, Tom Keats wrote the following note 
to Dilke. Since we have so little knowledge of the Hamp- 
stead side of the Summer, and since the note pictures 
Tom's condition so sharply his alternate good and bad 
days, his constant intention toward cheerfulness it 
should, I think, be given here. 

2 "Mv DEAR DILKE. 

I am really concerned that you should be so ill as Mrs. 
Bentley reports this morning. Could you and Mrs. Dilke 
come out again, you would be sure to find me out of bed 
sick people are supposed to have delicate stomachs, for my 
part I should like a slice of underdone surloin. I have sent 
you a trifle of fruit the cherries are not so fine as I could 
wish. I hear London is full of the bowel complaint has 
it not reached Hampstead? 

Yours truly, 
THOS. KEATS." 

The letter is dated merely "Tuesday morning," so we 
have only the cherries to guide us as to the month, but by 
their evidence I think we may suppose the note to belong 
either to the very end of June or to the early part of July. 
From the tone of it, it seems as though John had been gone 

1 Unpublished letter. Author's Collection. 

1 Original unpublished letter in the possession of the Keats Memorial 
Association. Hampstead, England. 




TOM KEATS 

From an <>n<jr<irin<j of a irnlvr-colonr d'ctch hi/ Joseph Serem. hi the 
jtoswwion of Mix* I 'a nut/ Spent Mac Dona Id, yreat 
oj (jt'orye Kifx 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 75 

some time. The reference to the sirloin is a terrible re- 
minder of the debilitating diet which medical ignorance 
prescribed for tuberculous patients at that period, so add- 
ing the tortures of hunger to all the other sufferings they 
had to bear. We shall have occasion to notice this again 
when we come to Keats's days in Rome. Illness breathes 
in every word of Tom's letter, but plucky illness, illness 
possessed of a fighting spirit which will give way inch by 
inch as it must, but will yield no inch without a struggle. 
Early in August, Tom became much worse, so much 
worse that the doctor urged Dilke to send for John. Writ- 
ing to her father-in-law on Sunday, August sixteenth, Mrs. 
Dilke tells the story: 

1 "John Keats's brother is extremely ill, and the doctor 
begged that his brother might be sent for. Dilke accord- 
ingly wrote to him, which was a very unpleasant task. 
However, from the journal received from Brown last 
Friday, he says Keats has been so long ill with his sore 
throat, that he is obliged to give up. I am rather glad of it, 
as he will not receive the letter, which might have frightened 
him very much, as he is extremely fond of his brother. 
How poor Brown will get on alone I know not, as he loses 
a cheerful, good-tempered, clever companion." 

So the clouds hung heavy over Keats's destiny, and bided 
their time while the Cromarty smack pursued her leisurely 
way down the coast. But this was not all, mutterings of 
another storm were in the air, and the inevitable bursting 
of it was anxiously awaited by the forewarned Taylor and 
his confidants, Hessey and Woodhouse. The warning had 
come to Taylor as follows: So early as May, Taylor had 
taken the precaution, wise or unwise, of calling upon 
GifFord, the editor of the Quarterly ? to plead for fair play 
for the newly published Endymion, to beg that the book, 
simply because its author happened to be a friend of Leigh 

1 Papers of a Critic, by Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke. 

1 Colvin. From information supplied by a great-niece of Taylor's. 



76 JOHN KEATS 

Hunt's, should not be treated in a spirit of political ran- 
cour, but simply as a poem, a work of imagination, with no 
political bias at all. Early as he was in taking this step, 
Taylor was too late, for on Gifford's table lay a review 
of the book. Gifford was polite and non-committal, but 
Taylor carried away from the interview small hope that 
the review, which was not shown him, would be lenient. 
Whether Taylor communicated his fears to any of Keats's 
more immediate friends, such as Reynolds, whom Taylor 
constantly saw, we do not know. It is certain, however, 
that whether they knew of this particular instance or not, 
the situation could have been, and probably was, correctly 
postulated by all. In the case of one, we have his own 
word for it, and for the blunder his fear of the consequences 
to Keats led him into. The story of Bailey's meeting with 
Lockhart at Bishop Gleig's house in Scotland has often 
been told, but the letter to Taylor 1 in which he recounts it 
has never been printed before. The letter was written at 
Carlisle, and dated "August 29, 1818." 
This is what Bailey says: 

" I have something to tell you respecting Endymion : but it 
must be in your ear: That is, I do not wish it to be re- 
peated to Keats, it being my determination to do him all 
the good I can without creating mischief. I fear Endymion 
will be dreadfully cut up in the Edinburgh Magazine 
(Blackwood's). I met a man in Scotland who is concerned 
in that publication, & who abused poor Keats in a way 
that, although it was at the Bishop's table, I could hardly 
keep my tongue. I said that I supposed he would be 
attacked in Blackwood's. He replied 'not by me'-, which 
would convey the insinuation he would be by someone 
else. The objections, he stated, were frivolous in the 
extreme. They chiefly respected the rhymes. But I feel 
convinced now the Poem will not sell ; & I fear his future 
writings will not. In Scotland he is very much despised 
from what I could collect/' 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 77 

What had really happened, I take from another manuscript 
in the Woodhouse Book, Morgan Library. Bailey, with 
the best intentions, undertook to tell Lockhart a few facts 
of Keats 's life, among others that he was "of a respectable 
family; & though he & his brothers & sister were orphans, 
they were left with a small but independent Patrimony. 
He had been brought up to the profession of medicine 
which he had abandoned for the pursuit of Literature." 
He was also careful to assure Lockhart that Hunt had had 
no hand in Endymion. What this innocuous information 
brought forth, the malicious twist by which it was made to 
argue in Keats's disfavour, utterly confounded Bailey 
when he read the review, and no wonder. 

While all this awaited Keats, he was having a not un- 
pleasant rest in the smack, eating hugely of beef (Scotch 
porridge, consumed with horn spoons, he could not stom- 
ach) and chatting with the other passengers, amused to 
find himself the only Englishman. This was, so far as is 
known, his first experience of a ship and of the open sea, 
and the latter must have impressed him as the perfect 
complement to the mountains he had been seeing, but 
we have only a few words from him about the voyage. 
Events at Hampstead, when he reached it, were such as 
to throw his experiences during his trip into the back- 
ground. 

On Monday, August seventeenth, the Cromarty smack 
docked at the London Docks, and Keats set out at once for 
Hampstead. Mrs. Dilke, who saw him immediately upon 
his arrival, describes his appearance thus: 

1 "John Keats arrived here last night, as brown and as 
shabby as you can imagine; scarcely any shoes left, his 
jacket all torn at the back, a fur cap, a great plaid, and his 
knapsack. I cannot tell what he look'd like." 

Mrs. Dilke's letter is dated on the nineteenth, and Keats, 

1 Papers of a Critic, by Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke. 



7 8 JOHN KEATS 

writing to his sister in a letter which he dates "August 
18 th ," says: "We had a nine days passage and were landed 
at London Bridge yesterday." There would seem to be 
some mistake here, and, with Keats's usual vagueness as to 
the day of the month in mind, I think it quite probable 
that the fault is his. This difference of dates does, however, 
leave the exact day of Keats's docking hung in a balance, 
and I have preferred to let his date stand. 

Things were very black for Keats on his return to Hamp- 
stead. The sea voyage had done him good, but his throat 
was still badly inflamed, and in this state he was settling 
down to nurse the dying Tom; for by that time all hope 
of Tom's ultimate recovery had been abandoned, it was 
merely a question of time. John's first duty was to write 
and apprise Fanny of the change in Tom. This letter, and 
others written during the Autumn, are tragic with im- 
plication. John is always going to ask Abbey to let Fanny 
come and see Tom, and Abbey's reluctance to permit this 
is taken for granted. Abbey's attitude was barbarous 
and unfeeling in the extreme, for we cannot suppose that 
any hygienic consideration entered into his calculations. 
He had simply made up his mind that the brothers were a 
wild couple, and should be kept as much away from their 
sister as possible. Gross prejudice dictated his opinion, of 
course; but, as Keats's circle of acquaintances and Abbey's 
had no single point of contact, there was no one who could 
enlighten him. 

It was unfortunate for Keats that, before he had been a 
fortnight at Hampstead, Reynolds went off to stay either 
with, or near, the Drew family in Devonshire. For Keats 
needed his friends just then, or rather a few days later, 
when, with the appearance of the August number of 
Blackwood's containing the fourth article on The Cockney 
School of Poetry y the delaying storm of Scotch criticism 
and vituperation burst upon him in full fury. This fourth 
paper was devoted entirely to Keats, and to make this 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 79 

quite clear at the outset, the original motto of the series 1 

was truncated to its last three lines, beginning" of 

Keats," etc. 

Although the story of the Blackwood and Quarterly 
articles has so often been told, I must, perforce, re-tell it 
here, but I will do so as briefly as possible. 

In order to understand the situation, we must realize 
that, in Keats's day, the great reviews were really organs 
of a party. In our time, it is chiefly the daily papers and 
the weekly publications which parade a special political 
bias, but even these never dream of carrying party feeling 
into the matter of book reviews. It is safe to say that, in 
this country, at least, an author's political opinions are no 
bar to his receiving a fair consideration in any paper what- 
ever, except, of course, when his work is a purely political 
one. Prejudice exists, naturally, but it is a prejudice of 
individual critics, and since even critics are human and 
possessed of personal frailties, it could not be otherwise. 
But the frailest and most irascible of reviewers is free of 
the charge of measuring his praise or blame according to 
his author's party leanings. It was quite otherwise in the 
England of George the third, and remained so for a long 
time afterwards. Curiously enough, the most important 
reviews were in the hands of Scotchmen, although one of 
them was published in London. These were the Edinburgh 
Review of which Constable was the proprietor and Francis 
Jeffrey the editor; and the Quarterly, owned by John 
Murray and published in London, the editor being William 
Gifford. The Edinburgh was Whig, the Quarterly Tory, 
and each was what it was to the last ditch. Early in 1817, 
William Blackwood, an enterprising bookseller in Edin- 
burgh and a Tory, conceived the idea of issuing a new 
monthly magazine which should be at once a spoke in the 
wheel of his rival Constable, on the spot, and show a more 
active fighting spirit than the expatriated Quarterly. The 

1 See Vol. I, p. 518. 



80 JOHN KEATS 

magazine was launched under the title of the Edinburgh 
New Monthly Magazine, but the editors were incompetent, 
and after six months Blackwood dismissed them and re- 
organized the magazine with his own name on the title. 
For new editors, talent stood ready to his hand in the per- 
sons of two very clever and astonishingly unscrupulous 
young men, John Wilson and John Gibson Lockhart. 
Wilson was the son of a rich Glasgow merchant, and an 
Oxford graduate, but things had gone ill with him and 
he was, when Blackwood sought him out, at odds with 
fortune, as far as money was concerned. Lockhart came 
of an old Lanarkshire family; he was only twenty-three, 
but thought himself one hundred on the strength of an 
Oxford degree and a stay of some weeks in Weimar where 
he had met Goethe and made one of his circle. This was 
a great experience, certainly, and Lockhart should have 
imbibed much wisdom; but what he seems chiefly to have 
carried back to his native Scotland was an unblushing 
arrogance, and a profound scorn for any one who could 
not read Greek and Latin and was unacquainted with 
current German literature. Each of these promising 
youths was possessed of the gift of satire, together with a 
style pleasantly composed of gall and vitriol, and each was 
totally lacking in imagination and taste. They were de- 
lighted to run riot and did, and by doing so stamped them- 
selves forever as first-class cads in the eyes of all posterity. 
Even Lockhart, the middle-aged Lockhart, beloved son- 
in-law of Sir Walter Scott and author of the monumental 
Life of Scott, can never free himself from the stain of the 
Cockney School articles to any one who has read them. No 
words can exaggerate their unseemly and disgusting qual- 
ity; even when laughing at their jejune overstatements, 
wondering how a great reading nation like the British 
could have taken these ravings seriously, we cannot escape 
the loathing such writing engenders. I wish I had space in 
this book to give all four of the Cockney School articles 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 81 

in an appendix, but that cannot be; yet I strongly 
counsel my readers to seek them out and read them, 
for no adequate idea of them can be gained by any para- 
phrase. 

To make matters worse, and show that these cocksure, 
brilliant, and exceedingly stupid young men were also 
cowards, that each had what the slang of to-day calls a 
"yellow streak," they signed the articles "Z" and refused 
to give their names when challenged to do so by Leigh Hunt 
in the pages of the Examiner. The whole transaction is 
one of the most lamentable in literary history. According 
to Dilke, Lockhart sincerely repented later, but not until 
much later; for the sorriest part of the business was the 
carrying on of the vulgar quarrel, after Keats's death, in a 
review of Shelley's Adonais. What can we think of men 
who, under the circumstances, could write and print the 
following? 

"The present story is thus: A Mr. John Keats, a young 
man who had left a decent calling for the melancholy trade 
of Cockney-poetry, has lately died of a consumption, after 
having written two or three little books of verses, much 
neglected by the public. His vanity was probably wrung 
not less than his purse; for he had it upon the authority of 
the Cockney Homers and Virgils, that he might become a 
light to their region at a future time. But all this is not 
necessary to help a consumption to the death of a poor 
sedentary man, with an unhealthy aspect, and a mind 
harassed by the first troubles of versemaking. The New 
School, however, will have it that he was slaughtered by a 
criticism of the Quarterly Review. 'O flesh, how art 
thou fishified ! ' ... We are not now to defend a publi- 
cation so well able to defend itself. But the fact is, that the 
Quarterly finding before it a work at once silly and pre- 
sumptuous, full of the servile slang that Cockaigne dictates 
to its servitors, and the vulgar indecorums which that 
Grub Street Empire rejoiceth to applaud, told the truth of 
the volume, and recommended a change of manners and 
masters to the scribbler. Keats wrote on; but he wrote 



82 JOHN KEATS 

indecently, probably in the indulgence of his social pro- 
pensities." 

And this of a dead man ! 

The article ends, after treating Shelley's poem as only 
they could treat it, with a parody of Adonais entitled 
Elegy on my Tom Cat, which begins: 

"Weep for my Tomcat! all ye Tabbies weep, 

For he is gone at last! Not dead alone, 
In flowery beauty sleepeth he no sleep ; 
Like that bewitching youth Endymion!" 

Youth is no excuse for such a thing as this. The men who 
could write and conceive it were ruffians at heart without 
a spark of decent feeling. But this was long after. I have 
quoted the passage here because in no other so fully no, 
not even in the vile and shameless remarks on Leigh Hunt 
in the first three papers of the Cockney series do Wilson 
and Lockhart reveal what they really were. 

The chief reason for the Wilson-Lockhart dislike of 
Keats was that he was known to be a friend of Hunt's. 
Hunt was detested for several reasons. Possibly his slight- 
ing treatment of Scott in his satire on contemporary 
writers, The Feast of the Poets, had something to do with it, 
for Scott was idolized by both men; but, without that, the 
political attitude of the Examiner and Hunt's lack of re- 
pentance for his plain speaking about the Prince of Wales, 1 
even after being jailed on account of it, were enough to in- 
cur their hatred. Hunt was to be smashed at all costs; and 
Keats, as his friend, was to be cleverly chipped, if nothing 
more. 

The chipping process began almost at the opening of 
the review, where the reader was informed that 

"The Phrenzy of the 'Poems' was bad enough in its 
way; but it did not alarm us half so seriously as the calm, 
' settled, imperturbable drivelling idiocy of - Endymion. 1 " 

i See Vol. I, p. 65. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 83 

That started things with a good slap, and "Z" proceeded, 
quite innocently and merrily, to give himself away, for, 
after a sneering comment or two on the Poems, he remarks 
of Endymion: 

"The old story of the moon falling in love with a 
shepherd, so prettily told by a Roman Classic, and so 
exquisitely enlarged and adorned by one of the most 
elegant of German poets, has been seized upon by Mr. 
John Keats, to be done with as might seem good unto the 
sickly fancy of one who never read a single line either of 
Ovid or of Wieland." 

O Lockhart! Lockhart! Aged twenty-three! With what 
a proud and strutting air you deployed your erudition! 
And notice that none of the English poets who treated of 
the tale are called upon. Indeed, no! Lockhart was at the 
stage when the exotic is of inestimable worth. Latin, the 
Gentleman's tongue Wieland, German literature, the 
latest craze of travelled youth closed books both to the 
middle classes. Keats had read Ovid, even in the original, 
but Lockhart chose to believe otherwise. Mr. twenty- three- 
years-old, travelled-into-Germany-and-back John Gibson 
Lockhart, and blustering, devil-take-the-hindmost coad- 
jutor Wilson, sized the book up at once: 

"His Endymion is not a Greek shepherd, loved by a 
Grecian goddess; he is merely a young Cockney rhymester, 
dreaming a phantastic dream at the full of the moon." 

This was malice, but "Z" was intelligently enough versed 
in the Greek classics to make one true observation. "As 
for Mr. Keats' 'Endymion/" he says, "it has just as much 
to do with Greece as it has with 'old Tartary the fierce/" 
"Z" meant this as animadversion, but we can see it in 
quite a different light. I have already dealt with this 
question in the chapter on Endymion. 1 

1 See Vol. I, p. 346. 



84 JOHN KEATS 

There is much quotation in the article, and much 
ridicule is showered on the poem; but the most objection- 
able parts of it are the personal reflections, for instance: 

"Mr. Hunt is a small poet, but he is a clever man. Mr. 
Keats is a still smaller poet, and he is only a boy of pretty 
abilities, which he has done everything in his power to 
spoil/ 1 

In one place, Keats is addressed as "good Johnny Keats/' 
a nomenclature which brought from George, long after, 1 
the indignant observation: "John . . . was as much like 
the holy Ghost as Johnny Keats" But the crowning exploit 
of the review was the last paragraph: 

"And now, good-morrow to 'the Muses' son of Promise' 
. . . We venture to make one small prophecy, that his book- 
seller will not a second time venture 50 upon anything he 
can write. It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved 
apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr. 
John, back to 'plasters, pills, and ointment boxes,' &c. 
But, for Heaven's sake, young Sangrado, be a little more 
sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than 
you have been with your poetry." 

The wanton cruelty of that passage is extraordinary. All 
three of the principals, Blackwood, Lockhart, and Wilson, 
were out for notoriety; the new monthly must make itself 
noticed by fair means or foul, and this sort of thing pro- 
duced attention. Yet there were protests. Blackwood's 
London agents objected to the "Z" articles, and the pub- 
lisher had to lie himself into their good graces again. 
Murray, who had taken an interest in the magazine, with- 
drew his money. Yet still the trio kept on. Even the tragic 
death of John Scott in a duel with Christie (a duel which 
was the outgrowth of Scott's reiterated protests against 
the scurrilities of Maga), early in 1821, had little effect. 

1 Letter from George Keats to Dilke. April 29, 1825. Author's Collec- 
tion. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 85 

The Adonais review, the most abominable of all, appeared 
in the number for December, 1821. As to the question of 
the authorship of the "Z" articles, beyond the fact that 
they were probably written by one young man and touched 
up by the other, and that each in turn played critic to the 
other's composition, we cannot go. But this fourth Cock- 
ney School paper contains such obvious traces of Lockhart's 
hand that he certainly must have had a chief part in it. 
Sir Sidney Colvin has pointed out that both the word 
"Sangrado," taken from Le Sage's Gil Elas y and the al- 
lusion to Wieland's Endymion point clearly to him, partic- 
ularly the latter, since although Wieland's Oberon was 
known to English readers through Sotheby's translation, no 
one connected with Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine is at 
all likely to have known anything of his untranslated minor 
works except Lockhart, whose sojourn at Weimar had at 
least familiarized him with contemporary German poetry. 
Late in September, the April number of the Quarterly 
appeared, and in it was the paper which Taylor had seen 
lying on Gifford's tatle four months earlier. Gifford, 
whom Sir Sidney Colvin aptly calls "the acrid and de- 
formed pedant Gifford," was an implacable partizan, con- 
servative and narrow in his outlook on literature; entirely 
given over to the good old way in everything. The man to 
whom he had consigned Endymion for review, is now 
known to have been John Wilson Croker, as hide-bound 
a formalist as himself. No man less capable of understand- 
ing the fresh luxuriance of Endymion could have been 
found. The result was as might have been expected. 
The Quarterly article (unsigned, by the way; these prudent 
champions of the good old way preferred to let off their 
blunderbusses behind the safe screen of anonymity) began 
with a frank admission that the author of it had been un- 
able to read beyond the First Book of Endymion, of which 
he could make neither head nor tail. The second paragraph 
ingratiatingly continued: 



86 JOHN KEATS 

11 It is not that Mr. Keats, (if that be his real name, for 
we almost doubt that any man in his senses would put his 
real name to such a rhapsody,) it is not, we say, that the 
author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and 
gleams of genius he has all these; but he is unhappily a 
disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere 
called Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of 
the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language." 

So the door was opened a crack and the skeleton peeped 
through. The Tory feared the Whig. The great Tory 
publishing house of Murray feared the slightest spark of 
Whigism so much that through its mouthpiece, the long- 
established Tory organ, the Quarterly, it could stoop to 
crush a young poet's honest work, and in so doing incon- 
venience the small but tenacious firm of Taylor and Hessey. 
Taking Keats's Preface, Croker turned Keats's pathetic 
humility into a petard for his own hoisting. The poet him- 
self acknowledged the book to be immature; he was young 
and hoped to do better his own words convicted him ! 
Croker was merciless. His literary gods were assailed. 
"There is hardly a complete couplet enclosing a complete 
idea in the whole book," the scandalized pedant roared. 
This was intolerable, and he proceeded to quote and quote 
again; to string up rhymes of which he did not approve, 
for ridicule; to point out lines whose scansion eluded his 
metronomic ear; to list Keats's verbal inventions and make 
fun of them; in short, to prove, with the infinite cunning 
of unrelated lines, phrases, and words, that the poem was 
an utterly foolish and contemptible bit of childish effront- 
ery. Not once was he honest enough to give a single ex- 
ample of the merits he had admitted: powers of language, 
rays of fancy, gleams of genius. These were left with 
their bare mention. The paper ended as it began, with a 
sneer: 

"If any one should be bold enough to purchase this 
'Poetic Romance/ and so much more patient, than our- 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 87 

selves, as to get beyond the first book, and so much more 
fortunate as to find a meaning, we entreat him to make us 
acquainted with his success; we shall then return to the 
task which we now abandon in despair, and endeavour to 
make all due amends to Mr. Keats and to our readers." 

It will at once be seen that the Quarterly, while not de- 
scending to the unpardonable personalities which dis- 
graced Blackwood's, had in reality published the more 
dangerous article. The excesses of Blackwood's, the tone of 
the whole review, these things could not help but carry 
their own antidotes with them. Evident malice can 
nay, must be, in a measure, discounted. Irony, on the 
other hand, has no button on its foil. And the Quarterly 
had put its finger on a real weakness. Keats's versification 
was not always beyond reproach, his coinings were not 
always felicitous and there were too many of them. The 
Quarterly could not be entirely disagreed with, all that 
could be said was that there was another side which 
Croker would not indeed, I think, could not see. 

A third review, in some ways the worst of the three, had 
come out in the June number of the British Critic, but, con- 
sidering the dilatory appearance of periodicals in those 
days, Keats probably did not see it until his return from 
Scotland. Of this publication, its conductors and point of 
view, that compendium of useful knowledge, Leigh's New 
Picture of London, 1819, says: "This work is conducted by 
persons of the established church, and on the orthodox 
principles of that respectable body." The author of the 
review of Endymion is unknown, of his quality we can guess 
by a couple of quotations. His charming method of deal- 
ing with the poem is to tell the story, interpolating in his 
text various expressions taken from Keats which he dis- 
likes, thus making the whole read as nonsensically as 
possible; and to this form of ridicule he adds such judicious 
comments as his natural refinement suggests. Here is an 
illustration, the parentheses are his: 



88 JOHN KEATS 

"it seems that one evening when the sun had done driv- 
ing 'his snorting four/ 'there blossom 'd suddenly a magic 
bed of sacred ditamy,' (Qu. dimity?) and he looked up to 
the ' lidless-eyed train of planets,' where he saw 'a com- 
pleted form of all completeness/ 'with gordian'd locks and 
pearl round ears/ and kissed all these till he fell into a 
'stupid sleep/ from which he was roused by 'a gentle 
creep/ (N.B. Mr. Tiffin is the ablest bug-destroyer of our 
days,) to look at some 'upturned gills of dying fish/" 

This exquisite humour is carried on throughout, the last 
paragraph reading: 

"We do most solemnly assure our readers that this poem, 
containing 4074 lines, is printed on very nice hot-pressed 
paper, and sold for nine shillings, by a very respectable 
London bookseller. Moreover, that the author has put his 
name in the title page, and told us, that though he is some- 
thing between man and boy, he means by and by to be 
'plotting and fitting himself for verses fit to live/ We 
think it necessary to add that it is all written in rhyme, 
and, for the most part, (when there are syllables enough) 
in the heroic couplet." 

Two of the most important reviews had spoken, the 
Quarterly and Blackwood's. The British Critic had not 
quite the same rank, it was merely the terrier yapping be- 
side the big dogs. But where was the Whig rival, Con- 
stable's Edinburgh Review, whose editor was the temperate 
and intellectual Jeffrey? Silent, totally silent. No notice 
whatever was taken of Endymion in the Edinburgh Review 
until two years later. 

Seldom has any author been called upon to face a more 
annihilating trio of reviews than these that Keats read, 
one after the other, during the first weeks of his return to 
Hampstead. To say that he was not cut to the quick by 
them, would be both foolish and false; but to believe that 
he was in the least crushed because of them is to misunder- 
stand his character and misconstrue his attitude. He 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 89 

winced, but never for a moment did he flinch. No man 
likes to be called a "starved apothecary," or "an amiable 
but infatuated bardling," but that Keats ever wavered 
under these sneers has been long since proved not to have 
been so. There is perfect sense in his remark that "what 
Reviewers can put a hindrance to must be a nothing 
or mediocre which is worse." He tells George that such 
articles are "a mere matter of the moment," and adds that 
the attempt to crush him in the Quarterly has only brought 
him into more notice. 

Such flaming attacks were almost sure to bring rejoinders. 
On Saturday, October third, a letter appeared in the 
Morning Chronicle. This letter averred that its author 
knew nothing of Keats, but was moved by the "malice and 
gross injustice" displayed by the Quarterly toward him to 
put in a word of protest. Led to read the poem by the 
article in question, the writer, having done so, announces 
that he dares, "appeal to the taste and judgement of your 
readers, that beauties of the highest order may be found in 
almost every page." After a few perfectly just criticisms, 
which do but make his encomiums the more weighty, the 
writer ends with some very sharp digs at certain well-known 
critics (suggested, but not named) who might have written 
the review, among others, funnily enough, Croker himself, 
to whom he advises a comparison between Endymion and 
the Battle of Talevera. Since Croker was the author of the 
Battle, this was a bit of sheer, heart-winning audacity, and 
endears the mythical " J. S." to us forever. The article was 
signed "J.S." but who wrote it remains a mystery. Both 
Keats and Taylor declared they did not know. It could 
not have been Severn, he was dangerously ill with a "ty- 
phous fever" (probably typhoid) at the time; John Scott 
has been suggested as the author, but he was still abroad; 
James Smith is a possible speculation, but has nothing to 
substantiate it. No, we do not know the author as yet, 
at least. 



9 o JOHN KEATS 

On the following Thursday, the Morning Chronicle 
published another letter, this time signed "R.B." and 
dated "Temple." "R.B." was also declared unknown by 
both Keats and Taylor, and no hint as to who he was has 
ever been discovered. I have found in the Woodhouse 
Book in the Morgan Library a copy of this letter, but I 
fear that proves nothing, for Woodhouse may simply have 
copied it from the paper. It is worth remarking, however, 
that he does not seem to have copied the letter signed 
" J. S." " R. B.'s " letter was a manly backing up of " J. S.," 
who had anticipated the "few remarks" which he (R.B.) 
had intended to make. To prove his point that "the 
Critic who could pass over such beauties as these lines 
contain" is not "very implicitly to be relied upon," "R. B." 
appends to his article some long quotations from Endymion, 
all taken from the First Book, as the Quarterly reviewer 
had professed to have read nothing else. These quotations 
amount in all to about fifty lines, twenty-two of which are 
taken from the Hymn to Pan. 

When the last letter came out, good, thoughtful, sym- 
pathetic Hessey sent them both to Keats. Keats, in his 
answer, shows exactly how the whole circumstance was 
affecting him: 

"I cannot but feel indebted to those gentlemen who have 
taken my part. As for the rest, I begin to get a little 
acquainted with my own strength and weakness. 
Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man 
whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe 
critique on his own Works. My own domestic criticism 
has given me pain without comparison beyond what 
Blackwood or the Quarterly could possibly inflict and 
also when I feel I am right, no external praise can give me 
such a glow as my own solitary reperception and ratifica- 
tion of what is fine. J. S. is perfectly right in regard to the 
slip-shod Endymion. That it is so is no fault of mine. No! 
though it may sound a little paradoxical. It is as good 
as I had power to make it by myself. Had I been 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 9 i 

nervous about its being a perfect piece, and with that view 
asked advice, and trembled over every page, it would not 
have been written ; for it is not in my nature to fumble I 
will write independently. I have written independently 
without Judgement. I may write independently, and with 
Judgement hereafter. The Genius of Poetry must work out 
its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law 
and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. 
That which is creative must create itself. In 'Endymion,' 
I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become 
better acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, and 
the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and 
piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I 
was never afraid of failure ; for I would sooner fail than not 
be among the greatest/ 1 

So Keats looked into and judged himself, and who shall 
say that the judgment was not wise and just! 

Keats's friends were, of course, if not surprised at these 
vicious attacks, nevertheless utterly incensed. Bailey was 
introduced to Blackwood somewhere, and on Blackwood's 
informing him that, on his return from London, he had 
been very sorry to find the attack on Keats in his magazine, 
Bailey flatly told him that it was "infamous." But Bailey 
was not content to stop there. He tried to get Blackwood 
to let him publish a defence of Keats, but naturally could 
not do so. Then he wrote an article attacking Blackwood's 
and sent it to Constable for insertion in his Edinburgh 
Magazine (not to be confounded with the Edinburgh Re- 
view), but this was returned to him without a word. 
Bailey, by this time discouraged, tore up his article, but 
begged Taylor to tell Keats what his intentions had been. 

Reynolds, in Devonshire, had better luck. He wrote a 
long paper, attacking the Quarterly and lauding Keats, and 
got it published in The Alfred, West of England Journal 
and General Advertiser on Tuesday, October sixth. This 
article, somewhat abridged, Hunt reprinted the following 
Sunday in the Examiner, with a few prefatory remarks by 



92 JOHN KEATS 

himself. Hunt has been accused of pusillanimity in not 
coming to Keats's rescue more stoutly at this time, and 
after Keats's death he himself regretted that he had not 
done more. But what good would it have been? Hunt 
could only have made things worse, and then, too, he was 
not enthusiastic over Endymion, and more than a little 
piqued that he had not been consulted about it. On the 
whole, I imagine that the wisest thing he could do was 
just what he did reprint Reynolds's article and leave 
things there. Since the article was not signed, it had all 
the weight of a fresh opinion hailing from another part of 
the country. 

Nothing can exaggerate the cruelty of the reviews, nor 
the unfortunate chance that Keacs should have had to 
undergo them just when he did. Tom's illness was misery 
sufficient to darken all Keats's sky. Besides this, he was 
suffering from a mental tumult of opposing desires. It is 
not a little difficult to give a correct picture of Keats's 
mind during this Autumn. We must follow no thread of 
his thought without at the same time keeping an eye on 
the other threads. Keats lived his days as they came, 
fighting his difficulties as they arose, now absorbed in his 
own state of mind, then suddenly lifted out of himself by 
reflecting for a time on poetry, and again fuming at the 
reviews and planning " great verse" which should, in no 
very distant future, confute his enemies; yet, all the time, 
over him, surrounding him whichever way he turned, 
pressing down upon him, was the inescapable knowledge 
that Tom was dying, dying, leaving him, and that every 
hour spent away from Tom, every thought which had not 
its core in Tom, was in some sort a treason, a wasting of 
precious moments the flight of which he could not stay. 
With Brown still in Scotland, and Reynolds in Devon- 
shire, Keats's chief props during the early Autumn were 
undoubtedly the Dilkes. Then Dilke, who had not been 
well for some time, went off" to Brighton, and Haydon> 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 93 

whose eyes had been troubling him very much, also de- 
parted to visit his sister at Bridgewater. The old group 
seemed quite disintegrated. Keats must often have felt 
that he was living in some ghastly nightmare, where all 
the old familiar things of habit had suddenly grown strange 
and unreal. If the streets looked the same, his purposes 
as he walked along them were quite altered; the cheery 
lodging at Well Walk was inconceivably changed. No 
George, and only a poor, tortured semblance of Tom to 
greet him when he came back from a walk, or from town 
Tom, to whom he could not vent his own sufferings as he 
had been wont to do all his life. We get a very clear glimpse 
of his condition in a passage from a letter which he wrote 
to Dilke late in September. After an heroic attempt to be 
his old nonsensical self for a page, he breaks out: 

" I wish I could say Tom was any better. His identity 
presses upon me so all day that I am obliged to go out 
and although I intended to have given some time to study 
alone, I am obliged to write and plunge into abstract 
images to ease myself of his countenance, his voice, and 
feebleness so that I live now in a continual fever. It 
must be poisonous to life, although I feel well." 

That abstract images, either his own or other people's 
often failed to ease him can be seen by an annotation in his 
folio Shakespeare, where, in Act III, Scene IV, of King 
Lear, the words, "poore Tom," are underlined and the 
date, "Sunday evening, Oct r 4, 1818," written beside 
them. 

In the same letter to Dilke, he casually mentions that 

11 Rice is in town. I have not seen him, nor shall I for some 
time, as my throat has become worse after getting well, 
and I am determined to stop at home till I am quite well. 11 

On the same day, he wrote to Reynolds, a letter full of 
generous rejoicing at his friend's happiness. From this 
letter, and from Keats's telling Dilke that he hears that 



94 JOHN KEATS 

Reynolds is "almost over-happy," I suppose that Miss 
Drew had at last consented to a formal engagement. 
Here is what Keats says about Reynolds and about him- 
self: 

"Believe me I have rather rejoiced at your happiness 
than fretted at your silence. Indeed I am grieved on your 
account that I am not at the same time happy. But I 
conjure you to think at present of nothing but pleasure 
1 Gather the rose, &c ' gorge the honey of life. I pity you 
as much that it cannot last forever, as I do myself now 
drinking bitters. Give yourself up to it you cannot help 
it and I have a consolation in thinking so. I never was 
in love yet the voice and shape of a Woman has haunted 
me these two days at such a time, when the relief, the 
feverous relief of Poetry seems a much less crime. This 
morning Poetry has conquered I have relapsed into 
those abstractions which are my only life I feel escaped 
from a new strange and threatening sorrow and I am 
thankful for it. There is an awful warmth about my heart 
like a load of Immortality. 

Poor Tom that woman and Poetry were ringing 
changes in my senses. Now I am in comparison happy 
I am sensible this will distress you you must forgive 
me." 

Already, before he left Scotland, Keats, as we have seen, 
was considerably occupied with the thought of women; 
how they stood to him, and if they really stood anywhere 
at all in his economy. Now, suddenly, the negative turns 
positive. A woman swings across his vision, and he is 
conscious of a distinct sense of attraction. This is discon- 
certing, and in his present situation such a thought ap- 
pears like sacrilege to him. Also, he is afraid, distinctly 
afraid, of what a real passion would mean to him. This is 
not a real passion, he has the perspicacity to realize that 
immediately. This is to be no more than a passing excite- 
ment; but, for the moment, even as he sees behind it, as it 
were, his nerves respond acutely to its stimulus, so that 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 95 

the memory of this woman shakes and confuses him by its 
implication of a possibility. 

The woman who passes so kaleidoscopically across 
Keats's destiny was a young Anglo-Indian, Miss Jane Cox, 
a niece of Mrs. Reynolds. Keats tells the whole story to 
George and Georgiana a few days later, when, we may guess, 
a little more perspective had been added to the original 
effect: 

"She is not a Cleopatra, but she is at least a Charmian. 
She has a rich eastern look; she has fine eyes and fine 
manners. When she comes into a room she makes an 
impression the same as the Beauty of a Leopardess ... I 
always find myself more at ease with such a woman ; the 
picture before me always gives me a life and animation 
which I cannot possibly feel with anything inferior. I am 
at such times too much occupied in admiring to be awk- 
ward or on a tremble. I forget myself entirely because I 
live in her. You will by this time think I am in love with 
her; so before I go any further I will tell you I am not 
she kept me awake one Night as a tune of Mozart's might 
do ... I believe tho' she has faults the same as Char- 
mian and Cleopatra might have had. Yet she is a fine 
thing speaking in a worldly way: for there are two distinct 
tempers of mind in which we judge of things the worldly, 
theatrical and pantomimical ; and the unearthly, spiritual 
and ethereal in the former Buonaparte, Lord Byron and 
this Charmian hold the first place in our Minds; in the 
latter, John Howard, Bishop Hooker rocking his child's 
cradle, and you my dear Sister are the conquering feelings. 
As a Man in the world I love the rich talk of a Charmian; 
as an eternal Being I love the thought of you. I should like 
her to ruin me, and I should like you to save me." 

In spite of her rich talk and leopardess-like bearing, Miss 
Cox had not the qualities essential to the making of a deep 
impression upon Keats. The dual love which he uncon- 
sciously craved, that longing for a lover who should also 
be a mother, that necessity for believing in the spirit even 



96 JOHN KEATS 

while adoring the flesh, all this girt Keats as with a magi- 
cally tempered armour. Miss Cox had no weapon to pierce 
such metal as this, and of her we hear no more. But, even 
as it listed, the wind of sexual passion was preparing to blow 
again. 

To follow Keats's life as he lived it during these Autumn 
months, it is constantly necessary to break off one train of 
thought and pursue another. Tom, Poetry, and Woman 
these are the things which shared Keats's life at this 
time. He knew that health to him meant having poetry to 
write, and writing it. If his mind must wander from Tom, 
even for a moment, poetry was the only thing which carried 
a certain justification with it. There was no infidelity 
here; Tom loved his poetry as much as he did. And so the 
changes ring back to Tom. 

Luckily for Keats, there were outside things which must 
be attended to. Why, in this very number of the Quarterly ', 
there was a review of Birkbeck's two books on America. 
If Keats saw it, he must have been struck with the superb 
irony of circumstance which put it there. 

One thing the reviews had done. They had shown Keats 
how firmly his friends and his publishers were prepared to 
stand by him. On one occasion, dining with Hessey, Keats 
seems to have said something to the effect that everything 
had been written already, and therefore what was the use 
of writing any more. Woodhouse, who was present, was a 
good deal worried at Keats's remark, and, taking Black- 
wood's and the Quarterly into consideration, he could not 
wonder at it. So distressed was he, that he sat down and 
wrote to Keats. This letter has never, so far as I can dis- 
cover, been printed, although it has been postulated from 
Keats's answer. A second unpublished document contains 
Woodhouse's comments on this answer, and as Keats's 
letter and the two Woodhouse documents together make 
an interesting and unrecorded series, I shall give extracts 
from all three. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 97 

Writing from his rooms in the Temple, under the date of 
October twenty-first, Woodhouse says: 

1 " MY DEAR KEATS, 

Whilst in the country, from whence I am but lately re- 
turned, I met with that malicious, but weak & silly article 
on Endymion in the last Quarterly Review. God help the 
Critic, whoever he be! He is as ignorant of the rudiments 
of his own craft as of the Essentials of true Poetry. 

That his very regrettable* censures may have the effect of 
scaring from the perusal of the work some of the ' Dandy 1 
readers, male & female, who love to be spared the trou- 
ble of judging for themselves, is to be expected. But with 
men of sense, (as the example of J. S. in the Chronicle, 
proves) the effect must be the reverse ... for the reviewer 
in his undiscriminating stupidity, has laid his finger of 
contempt upon passages of such beauty, that no one with a 
spark of poetic feeling can read them without a desire to 
know more of the poem. ' If/ said a friend of mine at 
Bath, who had seen the critique, but not the work, 'these 
are the worst passages, what must the best be* ... But 
enough of such cobbling, carping, decasyllabic, finger- 
scanning criticaster. His hour of 'brief authority' must 
be nigh over. His blindness will soon work its own way 
into the earth. 

The appearance of this 'critical morsel,' however, 
determines me to address you on the subject of your late 
conversation at Hessey's, on which I have often since 
reflected, and never without a degree of pain I may 
have misconceived you ; but I understood you to say, you 
thought there was now nothing original to be written in 
poetry; that its riches were already exhausted, & all its 
beauties forestalled & That you should, consequently, 
write no more. I cannot assent to your premises, and I 
most earnestly deprecate your conclusion. For my part 
I believe most sincerely, that the wealth of poetry is un- 
exhausted and inexhaustible The ideas derivable to us 
from our senses singly & in their various combinations with 

1 From a draft of the original letter made by Woodhouse. Author's 
Collection. 

2 This word is problematic, as it could not be clearly read. 



98 JOHN KEATS 

each other store the mind with endless images of natural 
beauty ... It is then for the Poeta factus, the imitator of 
others, who sings only as has been sung, to say that our 
measure of poetry is full, & that there is nothing new to be 
written, thus charging upon 'most innocent nature' a 
dearth existing only in his own dull brain But the poeta 
natus, the true born son of Genius, who creates for himself 
the world in which his own fancy ranges, who culls from it 
fair forms of truth beauty & purity & apparels them in hues 
chosen by himself should hold a different language he 
need never fear that the treasury he draws from can be 
exhausted, nor despair of always being able to make an 
original selection. 

It is true that in this age; the mass are not of soul to con- 
ceive of themselves or even to apprehend when presented 
to them, the truly & simply beautiful of poetry. A taste 
vitiated by the sweetmeats & kickshaws of the past century 
may be the reason for this. Still fewer of this generation 
are capable of properly embodying the high conceptions 
they may have and of the last number few are the 
individuals who do not allow their fire and originality to 
be damped by the apprehensions of shallow censures from 
the grouching & the 'cold-hearted/ 'In these evil days 
however, and these Evil tongues' (in the spirit of truth & 
sincerity & not of flattery I say it) I believe there has 
appeared one bard who 'preserves his vessel' in purity 
independence & honor who judges of the beautiful for 
himself, careless who thinks with him who pursues his 
own selfappointed & approved course right onward who 
stoops not from his flight to win sullied breath from the 
multitude . . . and shall such a one, upon whom anxious eyes 
are fixed ... be dismayed at the yelpings of the tuneless, 
the curious, the malignant or the undiscerning? or shall he 
fall into the worse error of supposing that there is left no 
corner of the universal heaven of poetry un visited by 
Wing? Shall he subtract himself from the caputations 1 of 
his country; and leave its ear & its soul to be soothed only 
by the rhymers & the coupleteers? Shall he let 'so fair a 
house fall to decay ' and shall he give the land which let 

1 This seems to be the word Woodhouse wrote, but it is very indistinct. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 99 

Chatterton & K. White die of unkindness and neglect 
but which yet retained the grace to weep over their ashes, 
no opportunity of redeeming its Character & paying the 
vast debt it owes to Genius? Your conduct, my Dear 
Keats, must give these Questions an answer. 

' Know thine own work & reverence the lyre! ' 
The world, I hope & trust, is not quite so dead dull and 
ungrateful as you may have apprehended or as a few 
malevolent spirits may have given you reason to imagine. 
It contains, I know, many who have a warm 'affection for 
the cause of stedfast Genius toiling gallantly,' many 
who, tho f personally unknown to you, look with the eye of 
hope & anticipation to your future course but very few 
who in sincere wishes for your welfare, & passion for your 
fame, exceed, Dear Keats, 

Yours most truly, 

RlCH D WOODHOUSE." 

We get a very clear idea of Woodhouse from that letter. 
The man himself is there, with his keen literary interest, 
his insight, his loyalty, and his egregious habit of constant 
quotation. Woodhouse is a bit stilted now and then, very 
much the lettered dilettante, but such a good, steady, hon- 
est soul looks at us through the ornamental phrases that 
we forget to be annoyed by them, and notice only the 
evident sincerity which no clap-trap of expression can con- 
ceal. Keats was never intimate with Woodhouse in the 
sense that he was intimate with Reynolds, or Bailey, or 
Brown, but Woodhouse must have been a comfort to him 
in many ways, he must often have warmed himself at 
Woodhouse's enthusiasm, even though Woodhouse's insati- 
able curiosity in regard to his work undoubtedly galled him 
at times. But this letter came at the crucial moment, when 
Keats needed just the kind of encouragement and solid 
backing that Woodhouse gave. He answered within the week 
(his reply is postmarked "OC. 27, 1818. 12 o'Clock") in a 
letter which is so important that, in spite of its being well 
known,! do not feel justified in giving otherwise than entire. 



ioo JOHN KEATS 

1 " MY DEAR WOODHOUSE. 

Your letter gave me great satisfaction, more on account 
of its friendliness than any relish for that matter in it which 
is accounted so acceptable to the 'genus irritabile.' The 
best answer I can give you is in a clerklike manner to make 
some observations on two principal points which seem to 
point like indices into the midst of the whole pro and con 
about genius, and views, and achievements and ambition 
and caetera. I st . As to the poetical character itself (I mean 
that sort, of which, if I am anything, I am a member; that 
sort distinguished from the Wordsworthian, or egotistical 
Sublime; which is a thing per se, and stands alone), it is not 
itself it has no self It is every thing and nothing 
It has no character it enjoys light and shade; it lives in 
gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or 
elevated. It has as much delight in conceiving an lago 
as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher de- 
lights the chameleon poet. It does no harm from its relish 
of the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for 
the bright one, because they both end in speculation. A 
poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence be- 
cause he has no Identity he is continually in for and 
filling some other body. The Sun, the Moon, the 
Sea, and men and women, who are creatures of impulse, are 
poetical, and have about them an unchangeable attribute; 
the poet has none, no identity he is certainly the most 
unpoetical of all God's creatures. If then he has no self, 
and if I am a poet, where is the wonder that I should say 
that I would write no more? Might I not at that very 
instant have been cogitating on the Characters of Saturn 
and Ops? It is a wretched thing to confess; but it is a very 
fact, that not one word I ever utter can be taken for 
granted as an opinion growing out of my identical Nature 

how can it, when I have no Nature? When I am in a 
room with people, if I ever am free from speculating on 
creations of my own brain, then, not myself goes home to 
myself, but the identity of every one in the room begins to 
press upon me, so that I am in a very little time annihilated 

not only among men; it would be the same in a nursery 

1 Quoted from the original letter. Author's Collection. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 101 

of Children. I know not whether I make myself wholly 
understood: I hope enough so to let you see that no 
dependence is to be placed on what I said that day. 

In the second place, I will speak of my views, and of the 
life I purpose to myself. I am ambitious of doing the world 
some good: if I should be spared, that may be the work 
of maturer years in the interval I will assay to reach 
to as high a summit in poetry as the nerve bestowed upon 
me will suffer. The faint conceptions I have of poems to 
come bring the blood frequently into my forehead. All 
I hope is, that I may not lose all interest in human affairs 
that the solitary Indifference I feel for applause, even 
from the finest spirits, will not blunt any acuteness of 
vision I may have. I do not think it will. I feel assured 
I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I 
have for the beautiful, even if my night's labours should 
be burnt every Morning, and no eye ever shine upon 
them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from 
myself, but from some Character in whose soul I now 
live. 

I am sure, however, that this next sentence is from my- 
self I feel your anxiety, good opinion, and friendship, in 
the highest degree, and am 

Yours most sincerely, 

JOHN KEATS." 

There is some exaggeration here, and more than a little 
fatigue. Keats was bearing too much, and it was telling 
upon him. The identities of people do not so press upon a 
person in health, even though he be a poet. That Tom's 
identity should press upon him constantly at this time, is 
no wonder; it could not have been otherwise. But that 
this impinging of other personalities on his should be 
carried into a drawing-room of casual acquaintance, shows 
that Keats was all fagged out, with brain, and nerves, and 
body harassed and jangling. The marvel is that he stood 
the strain as well as he did. And there is a great deal of 
truth in his remarks. The poet differs from the "poetic" 
person in just this power to lose himself in his creations. 



102 JOHN KEATS 

The "poetic" person is a sentimentalist, he refers all things 
to himself and finds them of importance in proportion to 
the sensations they arouse in him; the poet is concerned 
with his creations for themselves, and forgets his own per- 
sonality in the effort to imbue them with such as are proper 
to his conception of them. We have seen before how 
puzzled Keats was by his own changes of mood. In refer- 
ring to them as belonging to some other personality, he is 
merely seeking to satisfy himself by inventing a reason for 
them. But the reason does not quite hit the mark, al- 
though it glances off the edge of it. We shall be wiser not to 
follow Keats's argument with too implicit a faith. Of his 
sincerity in writing it, there can be no question. He had 
persuaded himself that he had found an explanation, 
while in reality the clue lay in the complexity of his char- 
acter alone. 

Woodhouse appears to have expended a good deal of 
thought on the exact meaning of Keats's words, taken in 
connection with the man as he knew him. Leaving on one 
side, with admirable perspicuity, the relation of Keats's 
imaginative life to his expressed intentions, thus refusing 
any agreement to Keats's chief contention, he neverthe- 
less realized and traced the positive facts which Keats had 
assayed to explain. The document in which Woodhouse 
set down his conclusions is without superscription of any 
sort, so it may have been merely one of his many notes on 
Keats; on the other hand, it is quite probable that Wood- 
house was writing to enlighten Taylor, to whom he very 
probably showed Keats's letter. Woodhouse's reflections, 
in part, are: 

1 "I believe him to be right with regard to his own 
Poetical Character And I perceive clearly the dis- 
tinction he draws between himself & those of the Words- 
worth School. There are gradations in Poetry and in 
Poets." 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 103 

Here Woodhouse describes at some length the various kinds 
of poets, and continues: 

"The highest order of Poet will not only possess all the 
above powers but will have so high an imag n that he will 
be able to throw his own soul into any object he sees or 
imagines, so as to see feel be sensible of & express all that 
the object itself wo d see feel be sensible of or express. He 
will speak out of that object so that His own self will with 
the Exception of the mechanical part be 'annihilated/ 
and it is of the excess of this power that I suppose Keats to 
speak, when he says he has no identity. As a poet, and 
when the fit is upon him, this is true. And it is a fact that 
he does by the power of his Imag n create ideal personages 
substances & Powers that he lives for a time in their 
souls or Essences or ideas and that occasionally so in- 
tensely as to lose consciousness of what is round him. We 
all do the same in a degree when we fall into a reverie." 

Here an asterisk brings in a footnote, as follows: 

"The power of his Imag n is apparent in Every page of 
his Endym n & He has affirmed that he can conceive of a 
billiard Ball that it may have a sense of delight from its own 
roundness, smoothness & volubility & the rapidity of its 
motion." 

Then comes a paragraph of recapitulation, after which 
Woodhouse goes on: 

"This being his idea of the Poetical Character he may 
well say that a poet has no identity as a Man he must 
have Identity. But as a poet he need not. And in this 
Sense a poet is 'the most unpoetical of God's creatures.' 
for his soul has no distinctive characteristic it cannot 
be itself made the subj 1 of Poetry that is another persons 
soul can not be thrown into the poet's for there is no iden- 
tity or personal impulse to be acted upon ! 

Shaksp r was a poet of the kind above ment d and he 
was perhaps the only one besides Keats who possessed this 
power in an extra degree . . . 



io 4 JOHN KEATS 

L d Byron does not come up to this character. He can 
certainly conceive & describe a dark accomplished vilain 
in love. & a female tender and true who loves him. Or 
a sated & palled sensualist misanthrope & Deist. But 
here his power ends. The true poet can not only conceive 
this but can assume any character Essence idea or 
substance at pleasure. & he has this imaginative faculty 
not in a limited manner, but in full universality. 

Let us pursue Speculation on these Matters : & we shall 
soon be bra* to believe in the truth of every Syllable of 
Keats's letter, taken as a description of himself and his 
own ideas and feelgs." 

The chief thing worth preserving in this commentary is 
Keats's observation on the billiard-ball. It is perfectly 
characteristic and highly important. What the psycholo- 
gists call "organic reaction" is here present to a superla- 
tive degree. "Organic reaction" is the sudden sensation 
of physical participation in the action of an object seen, 
or proper to a word pronounced. For instance, the word 
"wind" will give a person with strong organic reactions 
a sense of being buffeted and blown upon by a high wind. 
Keats, in watching the billiard-ball, felt in himself, dis- 
tinctly and coercingly, the sensations which he imagined 
that a billiard-ball must have. The word "volubility" is 
arresting; it is allied to the "intellect" of the water-fall at 
Ambleside. 1 That Keats's reactions were organic, is 
obvious to every careful student of his poetry, but here 
is an evidence of it which we are greatly indebted to 
Woodhouse for having preserved. 

If only a fraction of Woodhouse's letter were taken up 
with the "tarterly" Quarterly (to borrow Byron's ex- 
pression), and Keats in his answer ignored the subject 
entirely, it was, nevertheless, very much present in the 
minds of all the set. What was to be done? Clearly the 
best response to such malice was to publish again and at 

1 See Vol. II, p. 23. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 105 

once. It had been immediately after the chilly reception 
of the Poems that Keats had begun Endymion. But for 
use at once, what was there? Nothing, really, but the Pot 
of Basil and a few sonnets and short lyrics. The Pot of 
Basil was not only done, but copied out fair. In his letter 
of the twenty-first of September to Reynolds, then in 
Devonshire, Keats had said: "Had I known you would 
have set out so soon I could have sent you the 'Pot of 
Basil' for I had copied it out ready." Reynolds returned 
to town early in October, but it was not so easy for him 
and Keats to meet as it had been hitherto. Reynolds, as 
articled clerk to a solicitor, was pretty well tied down, 
and Keats could only leave Tom very occasionally, prob- 
ably just when some friend was on hand to spell him. By 
hook or by crook, however, Reynolds managed to get out 
to Well Walk, and brought back with him the Pot of Basil. 
This was on Thursday, October thirteenth, and the next 
morning, in the fullness of his heart over the poem, he 
wrote a long letter to Keats. It is not difficult to see why 
Keats was so fond of Reynolds after reading this letter. 



DEAR KEATS. 

I was most delighted at seeing you yesterday, for I 
hardly knew how I was to meet with you, situated as you 
are, and confined as I am. I wish I could have stayed 
longer with you. As to the Poem I am of all things anxious 
that you should publish it, for its completeness will be a 
full answer to all the ignorant malevolence of cold lying 
Scotchmen and stupid Englishmen. The overweening 
struggle to oppress you only shows the world that so much 
of Endeavour cannot be directed to Nothing. Men do not 
set their muscles, and strain their sinews to break a straw. 
I am confident, Keats, that the Pot of Basil hath that 
simplicity and quiet pathos, which are of sure sovereignty 
over all hearts. I must say that it would delight me to 
have you prove yourself to the world, what we know you 

1 Given, slightly abridged, from a transcription of the original letter 
made by Professor Edward S. Burgess of New York University. 



io6 JOHN KEATS 

to be; to have you annul the Quarterly Review, by the 
best of all answers. 

When I see you, I will give you the Poem . . . And let us 
have the Tale put forth, now that an interest is aroused. 
One or two of your Sonnets you might print, I am sure . . . 
You will remember that we were [to] pu[t out] l together. 
I give over all intention and you ought to be alone. I can 
never write anything now my mind is taken the other 
way; But I shall set my heart on having you, high, as 
you ought to be. Do you get Fame, and I shall have it 
in being your affectionate and steady friend . . . 

Your ever affectionate 

J. H. REYNOLDS." 

Keats wanted to write, longed to write, but how could 
he, with Tom in the state that he was, and his own mind 
torn by so many conflicting importunities? He seems to 
have made an effort to begin Hyperion^ we see from the 
reference to Saturn and Ops in the letter to Woodhouse 
that the poem was beginning to "come down/' was taking 
some sort of shape to him. Poems often float in a sort of 
nebulous haze bright, but without contour; alluring, 
yet indefinite just beyond the sphere of words. So un- 
doubtedly Hyperion hung, yet what of it he got on paper 
during the Autumn we do not know. Very little, I im- 
agine, and that little will, I believe, be found in the 
Vision of Hyperion^ not in Hyperion proper. The reason 
for my belief I shall state in a later chapter. The only 
other poems which we know definitely to have been written 
before Tom's death, were a translation of a sonnet by 
Ronsard, sent to Reynolds in the letter of September 
twenty-first, 2 and a little Prophecy for George and Geor- 
giana's expected child. 

Of the first, little need be said. Keats called it a "free 
translation," and explained to Reynolds that the reason 

1 A slight tear, and a red seal, make the words bracketed conjectural. 
* Sir Sidney Colvin says that the letter is dated "about Sept. 22." 
Buxton Forman gives the date, by inference, as "21 or 22 September." 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 107 

why the sonnet lacked its final couplet was because "I 
had not the original by me when I wrote it, and did not 
recollect the purport of the last lines." As a matter of fact, 
the translation adheres very closely to the original, which, 
considering- that Keats was remembering Ronsard's lines 
merely, shows how much they had impressed him. Wood- 
house had lent him Ronsard's poems, and his opinion of 
them was that they had "great Beauties/' 

The Prophecy was sent in a long letter to George and his 
wife, written at intervals during October. It is ushered in 
by one of the very few passages of political discussion to be 
found in Keats's letters. I quote a part of it: 

"... as for Politics they are in my opinion only sleepy be- 
cause they will soon be too wide awake. Perhaps not 
for the long and continued Peace of England itself has 
given us notions of personal safety which are likely to 
prevent the reestablishment of our national Honesty. 
There is, of a truth, nothing manly or sterling in any part 
of the Government. There are many Madmen in the 
Country, I have no doubt, who would like to be beheaded 
on Tower Hill merely for the sake of 6clat; there are many 
Men like Hunt who from a principle of taste would like to 
see things go on better, there are many like Sir F. Burdett 
who like to sit at the head of political dinners, but there 
are none prepared to suffer in obscurity for their Country. 
The motives of our worst men are Interest and of our best 
Vanity. We have no Milton, no Algernon Sidney Gov- 
ernors in these days lose the title of Man in exchange for 
that of Diplomat and Minister. We breathe in a sort of 
Officinal Atmosphere. All the departments of Govern- 
ment have strayed far from Simplicity, which is the 
greatest of strength. There is as much difference in this 
respect between the present Government and Oliver Crom- 
well's as there is between the 12 Tables of Rome and the 
volumes of Civil Law which were digested by Justinian . . . 
Notwithstanding the part which the Liberals take in the 
Cause of Napoleon I cannot but think he has done more 
harm to the life of Liberty than any one else could have 



io8 JOHN KEATS 

done: not that the divine right Gentlemen have done or 
intend to do any good no, they have taken a Lesson 
from him, and will do all the further harm he would have 
done without any of the good. The worst thing he has 
done is, that he has taught them how to organize their 
monstrous armies.' 1 

This most temperate speech is certainly not the out- 
pouring of a frenzied radical. Yet Blackwood's had implied 
as much for Keats by saying: "We had almost forgot to 
mention that Keats belongs to the Cockney School of 
Politics, as well as the Cockney School of Poetry." Since, 
in the eyes of "Z," the Cockney School of Politics meant 
Leigh Hunt daring to point the finger of sarcastic comment 
at the sacrosanct person of Royalty in the shape of George, 
Prince of Wales ("Prinny," as Hunt's sympathizers called 
him), and cheerfully going to prison as a corollary, the in- 
ference was that he, and Keats along with him, were dan- 
gerous radicals who should, at all costs, be suppressed. 
That the effort at suppression at least was real, we have 
seen only too clearly. I have lately run across a remark of 
Hazlitt's which isso little known and so pertinent to Keats's 
words that I will give it here. In 1 824, Hazlitt was abroad, 
and in Rome he met an old friend, long absent from Eng- 
land, who inquired of him the state of things at home. "I 
told him," says Hazlitt, "that public opinion in England 
was at present governed by half a dozen miscreants, who 
undertook to bait, hoot, and worry every man out of his 
country, or into an obscure grave, with lies and nicknames, 
who was not prepared to take the political sacrament of the 
day, and use his best endeavours (he and his friends) to 
banish the last traces of freedom, truth, and honesty from 
the land. 'To be direct and honest is not safe.' To be a 
Reformer, the friend of a Reformer, or the friend's friend 
of a Reformer, is as much as a man's peace, reputation, or 
even life is worth. Answer if it is not so, pale shade of 
Keats, or living mummy of William Gifford!" 1 

1 Notes of a Journey through France and Italy, by William Hazlitt. 1826. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 109 

Keats was a friend of reformers, reformers who were so, 
like Hunt, " from a principle of taste," but that was enough. 
Keats was no more blind to the state of affairs than was 
Hazlitt, but active participation in such things was not 
his part; he commented in private, but said no word in 
print, as he might easily have done through the medium of 
the Examiner. That he felt no desire to air his views in 
public gives the measure of his interest in such subjects, 
which was, in truth, very slight. 

I have wandered far from the Prophecy, yet this poem 
was the direct result of his political cogitations, for, fol- 
lowing the passage I have quoted, Keats gives his opinion 
of America, a country of which he knew nothing and the 
idea of which distinctly repelled him. This is what he 
says: 

"Dilke, whom you know to be a Godwin perfecta- 
bility Man, pleases himself with the idea that America 
will be the country to take up the human intellect where 
England leaves off I differ there with him greatly. A 
country like the United States, whose greatest men are 
Franklins and Washingtons, will never do that. They are 
great Men doubtless, but how are they to be compared to 
those our country-men Milton and the two Sydney s? The 
one is a philosophical Quaker full of mean and thrifty 
maxims, the other sold the very Charger who had taken him 
through all his Battles. Those Americans are great, but 
they are not sublime Man the humanity of the United 
States can never reach the sublime. Birkbeck's mind is too 
much in the American style you must endeavour to in- 
fuse a little Spirit of another sort into the settlement ... If 
I had a prayer to make for any great good, next to Tom's 
recovery, it should be that one of your Children should be 
the first American Poet. I have a great mind to make a 
prophecy, and they say prophecies work out their own ful- 
fillment " 

Here follows the poem beginning: 

" Tis ' the witching time of night ' " 



i io JOHN KEATS 

and ending: 

" Little Child 
O' th' western wild 
A Poet now or never!" 

Unfortunately it was "never." American literature can 
boast no poet of the name of Keats, and the name itself 
is now on the road to extinction. 1 The poem was clearly 
an impromptu, and as such is pleasant. The idea of a 
flaming lyre perching on the top of the cradle, which no 
one dare touch, but which the child seizes and plays upon, 
is a pretty conceit. 

The Ronsard sonnet and the Prophecy hardly counted, 
however, and Hyperion simply would not march. Keats 
tells George that he is going to start on a prose tale, as his 
mind is too active to remain idle, and he has " too many 
interruptions to a train of feeling to be able to write 
Poetry." But even the prose tale could not get written. 
Tom, Tom, Tom his heart was full of Tom, who "looks 
upon me as his only comfort," he writes to George. Yet, 
even in the midst of all this misery, he never loses his sense 
of direction. At bottom, he knows himself a dedicated 
being: "The only thing that can ever affect me personally 
for more than one short passing day, is any doubt about 
my powers of poetry I seldom have any, and I look 
with hope to the nighing time when I shall have none." 
Proud words, but prouder still are those earlier in this 
same letter where he is speaking of the reviews: "I think I 
shall be among the English poets after my death." This 
was no bombast, but the simple statement of a position 
which he recognized rather as a responsibility than any- 
thing else. 

Youth naturally looks forward, but Keats seemed to be 
at a dead stop where no plans could be made. If he 

1 George Keats had eight children, but only two sons. There are many 
of his descendants in America to-day, but only one, a woman, who bears the 
name of Keats. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT in 

glimpsed the idea of spending a year with George in 
America, one look at Tom was enough to send the vision 
dissolving in smoke. He could not talk over such plans 
with Tom, he could not even ask Tom if he wanted to 
send a message to George, the effect of any recalling of 
his distant brother to the mind of the sick boy was too 
devastating, for he, certainly, would never see George 
again. 

Yet once more, in this same letter, the leit-motif of sex 
becomes clearly audible, and this time it is the lady met 
at Hastings who is responsible. Keats encountered her 
quite unexpectedly "in a street which goes from Bedford 
Row to Lamb's Conduit Street." First Keats passed her; 
then, thinking better of it, turned back and joined her. 
They walked on " towards Islington," where the lady paid 
a call, and then back to the lady's lodgings in Gloucester 
Street, Queen Square. Her sitting-room Keats describes 
as "a very tasty sort of place with Books, Pictures, a 
bronze statue of Buonaparte, Music, aeolian Harp; a 
Parrot, a Linnet, a Case of choice Liqueurs &c. &c. &c." 
Whoever this woman was, she had a heart and was quick 
at detecting atmospheres. She gave Keats a grouse for 
Tom's dinner, but would not let him kiss her at parting. 
This episode he recounts with such charming naivete that 
I will give it in his own words. It is not quite the trivial 
matter it appears to be at first glance, rather is it the 
cat's-paw which indicates a change of wind. 

"As I had warmed with her before and kissed her I 
thought it would be living backwards not to do so again 
she had a better taste: she perceived how much a thing of 
course it was and shrunk from it not in a prudish way 
but in as I say a good taste . . . She said I should please her 
much more if I would only press her hand and go away. 
Whether she was in a different disposition when I saw her 
before or whether I have in fancy wrong'd her I cannot 
tell." 



ii2 JOHN KEATS 

Wronged or not, the lady met at Hastings was a kindly 
and an astute woman. What she saw was that Keats was 
quite different from the boy with whom, a year and a half 
before at Bo Peep, she had flirted lightly and inconse- 
quentially as seaside vacationists have always done and 
always will do. This man, standing with the parrot, and 
the linnet, and the statue of Bonaparte in her little sitting- 
room, was another being entirely, one already marked by 
experience, a man who knew suffering, who faced tribula- 
tion, who had been stormed upon and would not yield. 
And he did not want to kiss her, only offered to do so as a 
polite attention. This experienced woman saw all this and 
more she saw a preoccupation, an aloofness, a perplexed 
space on which she could not enter. Keats goes on to ex- 
plain to George that he has "no libidinous thought about 
her she and your George are the only women a peu pres 
de mon age whom I would be content to know for their 
mind and friendship alone." If Keats were so susceptible 
as this, how came it that a woman whom he had previously 
found desirable left him completely passive? There is, I 
think, one answer, and one only Fanny Brawne was in 
Hampstead and Keats had met her. I must defer speak- 
ing of Fanny Brawne for a few pages yet, but as she is the 
aura over this Autumn afternoon episode, and the con- 
cealed cause of a very important passage in the long letter 
to George, I must at least hint of her here as the clue to 
both. The passage in question follows immediately upon 
Keats's account of his afternoon: 

" I shall in a short time write you as far as I know how I 
intend to pass my Life I cannot think of those things 
now Tom is so unwell and weak. Notwithstanding your 
Happiness and your recommendation I hope I shall never 
marry. Though the most beautiful Creature were waiting 
for me at the end of a Journey or a Walk; though the 
Carpet were of Silk, the Curtains of the morning Clouds; 
the chairs and Sofa stuffed with cygnet's down; the food 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 113 

Manna, the Wine beyond Claret, the Window opening on 
Winander mere, I should not feel or rather my Happi- 
ness would not be so fine, as my Solitude is sublime. Then 
instead of what I have described there is a sublimity to 
welcome me home. The roaring of the wind is my wife and 
the Stars through the window pane are my Children. The 
mighty abstract Idea I have of Beauty in all things stifles 
the more divided and minute domestic happiness an 
amiable wife and sweet Children I contemplate as a part of 
that Beauty, but I must have a thousand of those beautiful 
particles to fill up my heart. I feel more and more every 
day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in 
this world alone but in a thousand worlds. No sooner am I 
alone than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around 
me . . . According to my state of mind I am with Achilles 
shouting in the Trenches, or with Theocritus in the Vales of 
Sicily. Or I throw my whole being into Troilus, and re- 
peating those lines, 'I wander like a lost Soul upon the 
Stygian Banks staying for waftage,' I melt into the air 
with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be 
alone. These things, combined with the opinion I have of 
the generality of women who appear to me as children 
to whom I would rather give a sugar Plum than my time, 
form a barrier against Matrimony which I rejoice in. 

I have written this that you might see I have my share of 
the highest pleasures and that though I may choose to pass 
my days alone I shall be no Solitary. You see there is 
nothing spleenical in all this ... I am as happy as a Man 
can be that is in myself I should be happy if Tom was 
well, and I knew you were passing pleasant days. Then I 
should be most enviable with the yearning Passion I 
have for the beautiful, connected and made one with the 
ambition of my intellect." 

This was very likely written on the same day that Keats 
wrote to Woodhouse, for the passage is near the end of 
the letter, which was finally finished on Keats' s birthday, 
October twenty-ninth. Certainly the idea of his being 
"with Achilles" or "with Troilus" is the same as the 
whole purport of the Woodhouse letter. But what does this 



ii 4 JOHN KEATS 

passage as a whole mean that Keats really dreaded the 
idea of marriage and regarded the sex in general with 
cynical disdain? Scarcely this, I think. Let us take the 
disdain first, since it has been made a distinct point of 
attack by many critics. Because Keats was a great poet, 
we are apt to forget that he was also a very young and 
inexperienced man. The pronouncements of a boy of 
twenty-three in regard to the opposite sex are not to be 
taken too seriously, even when that boy is also a genius. 
After all, on what basis had Keats built his opinion? 
Why, on the extremely insecure one of the women he had 
known, to be sure. Just so, and who were these women? 
The Matthew girls, the Reynolds sisters, Mrs. Dilke, 
Mrs. Hunt nice women, all of them, but not especially 
remarkable in any way. We get no impression of intellect 
from one or another, not a single member of the group 
seems to have been the kind of woman with whom Keats 
could have discussed literature on any plane of equality. 
The men, on the other hand, were distinctly intellectual, 
even those who have left no name to posterity. Apart 
from the obviously unusual men, like Hazlitt, and Hunt, 
and Haydon, there was a high degree of interest in literary 
affairs, and much critical acumen, displayed by all the 
group. Of course, Keats, being what he was, naturally 
gravitated toward men of mental power. The women he 
knew were simply the appendages to these men. Keats 
took them as they came, but long before his twenty-third 
year he had discovered that, whatever they gave him, it 
was not poetic stimulus; so far as poetry or intellect was 
concerned, time spent with them was wasted. Out of this 
grew the assumption that they were children merely, in all 
things which had to do solely with mind. Note, however, 
that Keats carefully says "the generality of women," 
which leaves room for a possible half-believed-in exception. 
Yet so little credence had he in his own exception, that, in 
the heat of his desire to create, he positively feared the 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 115 

advent to himself of anything like passion. Absorption in a 
woman meant less concentration on poetry, or he imagined 
that it would, and that idea he could not brook, and all the 
more because he felt it stealing upon him. All the stuff 
about silken curtains and swan's-down sofas, was, I regret 
to say, nonsense and rhodomontade. For once, Keats was 
not perfectly sincere. This is rhetoric, a fault of which he 
was seldom guilty; but he had himself to convince as well 
as his brother and sister. How differently he wrote when 
he had nothing to hide, no a priori thesis to maintain. 
His sister-in-law he loved and admired, she was " a glorious 
human being"; he had no dread of her, she was George's 
wife, which fact lifted a load off his mind by placing her 
outside the orbit of his growing sexual consciousness. He 
could speak freely to her, and he did. This is what he says: 

"Your content in each other is a delight to me which I 
cannot express the Moon is now shining full and 
brilliant she is the same to me in Matter, what you are 
to me in Spirit. If you were here my dear Sister I could not 
pronounce the words which I can write to you from a 
distance: I have a tenderness for you, and an admiration 
which I feel to be as great and more chaste than I can have 
for any woman in the world. " 

The pity of Georgiana's departure! Keats had always 
needed a sister and never more than now. Fanny was too 
young; but then, I fear, Georgiana was that also at this 
period. As things were, he was obliged to meet the huge 
problem of sex alone, a problem with which he was, as yet, 
totally unfitted to cope. 

Early in November, a peculiar thing happened. Keats 
received an anonymous, laudatory sonnet enclosing a 
twenty-five pound note. This communication was ad- 
dressed to him at Teignmouth, from which place it had been 
forwarded to Taylor and Hessey. Naturally Keats was 
pleased at this evidence of sympathy, but he was rather 



ii6 JOHN KEATS 

nonplussed by the bank-note. He kept it, however (what 
else could he do?), "if I had refused it," he wrote to 
George, "I should have behaved in a very braggadocio 
dunderheaded manner and yet the present galls me a 
little, and I do not know whether I shall not return it if I 
ever meet with the donor, after whom to no purpose have I 
written." It has never been discovered who the donor was. 

In the mean time, for all these diverse threads and 
threadlets of varying interests, Keats was really seeing 
very few people. "I have been but once to Haydon's, 
once to Hunt's, once to Rice's, once to Hessey's. I have 
not seen Taylor, I have not been to the Theatre." This was 
the state of affairs in the middle of October, when he had 
been back in Hampstead for two months. He made a point 
of going to Mrs. Wylie's as often as he could on Georgiana's 
account, but these calls at this time numbered only two. 
Tom, and Tom only, was his chief concern. The difficulty 
of procuring Abbey's consent to Fanny's visits was a con- 
stant source of trouble and misery. On one of them, 
Keats had taken her to call on some of his friends, which 
incensed Abbey, who knew nothing of the people in ques- 
tion and distrusted any one who was a friend of John's. 
After this, Keats wrote to Fanny suggesting, very covertly, 
that she should not mention her doings at Hampstead to 
the Abbeys. His endeavour to convey the idea without 
exactly countenancing deceit is very amusing. Having 
floundered somewhat awkwardly in making his counsel 
balance with his ideas of sincerity, he ends with the pa- 
thetic quibble: "Perhaps I am talking too deeply for you: 
if you do not know now, you will understand what I mean 
in the course of a few years." Since Fanny was fifteen, and 
by no means a stupid girl, she was probably perfectly 
capable of appreciating John's sophistry and being enter- 
tained by it. 

On November fifth, Keats wrote to Fanny that he had 
seen Abbey three times to beg him to let her come and see 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 117 

Tom, but had not been able to get his consent. "He says 
that once more between this and the Holydays will be 
sufficient/' Keats reports. Incredible callousness to keep a 
sister from a dying brother! And I think the "once 
more" never took place. Tom was sinking rapidly; he died 
just as the sun was rising on the morning of December first. 
Worn out with nursing, overwhelmed with grief, Keats 
stumbled out in the early morning sunlight to find Brown, 
to whom he had grown very close during the months in 
Scotland. Brown has told the story of their meeting, he 
says: 

1 "Early the next morning, I was awakened in bed by a 
pressure on my hand. It was Keats, who came to tell me 
that his brother was no more. I said nothing, and we both 
remained silent for a while, my hand fast locked in his. At 
length, my thoughts returning from the dead to the living, 

1 said, ' Have nothing more to do with those lodgings 
and alone too! Had you not better live with me?' He 
paused, pressed my hand warmly, and replied, 'I think it 
would be better/ From that moment he was my inmate/ 

That same day Brown wrote to Woodhouse. The letter is 
dated "Hampstead, Tuesday I st December" and says: 

2 SIR: 

Mr. Keats requests me to inform you his brother Thomas 
died this morning at 8 o'clock quietly and without pain. 
Mr. Keats is pretty well and desires to be remembered to 
you. 

I am, Sir, your obed' & hum. Serv't 

CHA S BROWN." 

It has always been thought that Tom Keats died in the 
night, but in this note we have direct proof to the contrary. 
There is an odd contradiction here, nevertheless, for Keats 
wrote to his sister, telling her that Tom had been so ill he 

1 Quoted by Sir Sidney Colvin in his Life of John Keats. 
8 Unpublished Letter. Author's Collection. 



ii8 JOHN KEATS 

had delayed her visit, and adding "I cannot say he is any 
better this morning he is in a very dangerous state I 
have scarce any hopes of him." This letter is dated "Tues- 
day Morn" and postmarked "Hampstead i December 
1 8 1 8." If Tom were already dead, why did Keats write to 
Fanny as though he were alive? The answer is, I am con- 
fident, one of two things. Either Keats wrote this letter to 
Fanny to prepare her before going to see her and telling her 
in person; or Keats wrote the letter very early in the 
morning before Tom died and posted it just the same, again 
with the idea of preparation. It is just possible that Keats's 
landlord, being a postman, may have taken the letter to 
the post-office when he started on his duties, which would 
very probably have been before eight o'clock, but this 
seems so little likely that I think it may be dismissed. 

Poor little Tom was dead, and Keats was desolate in- 
deed. The idea of writing to George was terrible to him, 
and Haslam took on himself the sad duty. Tom was 
buried on Thursday, December third, in St. Stephen's 
Church, Coleman Street, where his father and grand- 
mother were also buried. 

We know very little of Tom Keats. What little we do 
know shows him to have been an eager, intelligent, and 
affectionate fellow. We have George's word for it that he 
understood John better than any one else did, and we can 
see from John's letters to him from Scotland how close the 
tie between them was. What, then, can be the meaning of a 
passage in an unpublished letter from Bailey to Taylor? 
The same letter, indeed, which told the story of Bailey's 
meeting with Lockhart. At the time when Bailey wrote 
(August twenty-ninth) Tom was known to be very ill; it 
was not, indeed, expected that he could live as long as he 
did. Bailey's words are these: 

l "I do not well know what to think, whether good or 
1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 119 

bad of this young man; if it happen. It looks harsh to say 
it is happy; and yet from his character he must have lived 
a life of discomfort to himself & those with whom he was 
connected, if the character I have heard of him be just. 11 

What on earth was the character Bailey had heard of him? 
We would give much to know. Whatever it was, Bailey 
declared himself "religiously persuaded, all is for the best." 
Very easy for Bailey to say, very conventional, very cold 
and unfeeling. Bailey the curate was fast murdering 
Bailey the man. Sinister though his remarks appear to be, 
I feel sure, from the other evidence at hand, that all 
Bailey's suggested charges amount to is that Tom was im- 
patient with the cruelty of his fate, that he could not look 
calmly forward to a life of invalidism. Could any young 
man of nineteen? Bailey's clay feet peep from under his 
canonical robes very plainly in this passage. His useful- 
ness to Keats was over; the friendship was nearing its 
term. 

Tom's death left Keats peculiarly alone. As he told 
George, he still had Fanny and George and Georgiana. 
But Fanny was under Abbey's roof and Abbey's jurisdic- 
tion, and John was not a welcome visitor at Pancras Lane 
or Walthamstow, while George and Georgiana were half a 
world away, and distance, if it weakened no jot of the 
brothers' affection, did at least forbid the daily intimacy 
so necessary to continued understanding. Under these 
circumstances, Brown's invitation to Keats to come and 
live with him was a godsend. Brown had no family to be 
considered, and he and Keats had sampled their power of 
getting on together during the trying Scotch trip. They 
had no discoveries to make about each other; their "do- 
mesticating" together (the word is Keats's) was bound to 
work, and it did. 

Wentworth Place was, as I have said, 1 a double house, 

1 See Vol. I, p. 469. 



120 JOHN KEATS 

jointly owned by Dilke and Brown. Dilke's half was 
the larger, Brown, being a bachelor, needing less room. 
Brown's part of the house consisted of two sitting-rooms, 
front and back, on the ground floor, the first looking on 
the road, the last into the garden, which was not divided, 
but enjoyed in common by the two families; upstairs were 
two corresponding bedrooms, front and back, and some- 
where a small cubby-hole in which a guest could be put up 
for the night. The arrangement was that Keats should 
have the front parlour and Brown the back. If Brown's 
windows opened on the garden, Keats's commanded a 
view of Hampstead Heath across the road, so it was a 
toss-up which had the most agreeable outlook. Keats 
was to pay his share of the living expenses, and each was to 
pursue the ordinary tenor of his life, working in their 
different studies. Keats was glad to escape the noise of 
the Bentley children, and altogether the arrangement 
offered many advantages. Apparently Keats did not 
move his goods and chattels from the Well Walk lodgings 
for some weeks, but I think Sir Sidney Colvin is wrong in 
considering Brown mistaken in saying that Keats came 
to him permanently on the very day that Tom died, for 
Keats himself wrote George, sometime in December: 
"Brown detained me at his House." What seems to have 
happened was that Keats came at once to Brown's, but 
had neither the strength nor the fortitude to get his things 
together and break up the old home for some weeks after 
Tom's death. 

There can be no exaggeration of the blow which Tom's 
death was to John, and the courage with which he faced 
the great task of reorganizing his life was utterly admi- 
rable. But his nerves were badly shaken; morbid fancies 
assailed him. On one occasion, a white rabbit strayed into 
the Wentworth Place garden and Dilke shot it. Keats was 
very much upset by the occurrence, declaring that the 
rabbit was Tom's spirit. No reasons nor arguments had the 




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B 
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PC 



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SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 121 

slightest effect upon him and he held to his opinion so 
earnestly that when the rabbit, cooked and dished, ap- 
peared on the table, no one felt any inclination to eat it, 
and it was sent away untouched. Yet, even when in the 
clutches of painful imaginings such as this, deep in his 
mind Keats knew, and his friends knew, that he must 
begin to live a life among people again as soon as possible. 
It was for this reason, undoubtedly, that they insisted upon 
his going to the prize-fight between Jack Randall and Ned 
Turner, on Saturday, December fifth. This famous fight 
took place at Crawley Hurst in Sussex, so that the excur- 
sion must have been an all day affair. The weather was 
wretched, but "that did not prevent a great crowd from 
assembling." 1 The excitement was tremendous. It was 
said that thirty thousand pounds had been wagered on the 
result. It was an event of prime importance to the sporting 
world, and one which no young man interested in boxing 
could afford to miss. Keats's interest in boxing may have 
waned at this time, but Reynolds was at hand to revive it, 
and as both Turner and Randall had trained at Hamp- 
stead Heath, Keats, who had probably watched them at 
work many times, was naturally interested in the fight. 
Interest in it was in the air. Pierce Egan, in describing 
the encounter and the day, says: "The interest excited in 
the Metropolis on the above night upon this event, to 
those persons out of the ring, may appear like a romance. 
Hundreds were waiting at the turnpike gates, along the 
road, to learn who had won." Randall was the victor in 
the thirty-fourth round. 

Who Keats's companions at Crawley Hurst were, we are 
not told. It is no matter. The important thing for us to 
note is the wisdom and sanity on their parts, and on 
Keats's, which led him to make one of the crowd who 
trooped into Sussex that day. 

The first weeks after Tom's death must have been 

1 The Story of Boxing, by Trevor C. Wignall. 



122 JOHN KEATS 

bitter ones indeed. Keats's friends evidently felt that he 
must be helped to regain his footing upon life, and as an 
occasion like the Randall-Turner fight could not be hap- 
pened on every day, they tried to think of other things. 
An opportunity to help in this effort came to Woodhouse 
early in December. Woodhouse had a cousin, a Miss 
Frogley, who lived at Hounslow. To her, Woodhouse had 
lent a copy of Endymion. Before she had time to read it, 
however, it was begged of her by a Mr. Henry Neville, 
"house surgeon to the late Princess Charlotte," Wood- 
house remarks, by way of introduction. One day, Miss 
Jane Porter, then in the height of her fame as the author 
of the popular romances Thaddeus of Warsaw and The 
Scottish Chiefs, saw the book on Neville's table, and in her 
turn borrowed it. She returned it with a letter in which 
she spoke of the "very rare delight" it had given her and 
her sister, and hoped that " the ill-natured review will not 
have damped such true Parnassian fire." But more than 
this, she regretted that Mr. Neville did not know the 
author as she would have liked to make his acquaintance. 
Miss Frogley sent this letter to Woodhouse, who enclosed 
it to Keats, pointing out to him that this was an opening 
"for an introduction to a Class of society from which you 
may possibly derive advantage, as well as gratification, 
if you think proper to avail yourself of it." Keats did not 
think proper, or, at least, not at the moment. Woodhouse 
wrote on December tenth, Keats did not answer until the 
eighteenth. He found the suggestion gratifying, but not of 
epochal significance. Among other things, he said: 

" I should like very much to know those ladies though 
look here, Woodhouse I have a new leaf to turn over: I 
must work; I must read; I must write. I am unable to 
afford time for new acquaintances. I am scarcely able to 
do my duty by those I have. Leave the matter to chance." 

That chance was very unlikely to cross Keats's orbit 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 123 

with that of Miss Porter, he probably realized quite well, 
although, a little later, he did say to George: 

"I will be introduced to them if it be merely for the 
pleasure of writing to you about it I shall certainly see a 
new race of People. I shall more certainly have no time for 
them." 

The introduction never took place; Keats had no love for 
the literary blue stocking. 

It was not until the middle of December (at least that 
seems to be the time when the letter was begun) that 
Keats could bring himself to write again to his brother and 
sister-in-law in America. Then he was able to say to 
them: "I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some 
nature or other neither had Tom." This is important, as 
it shows how gradually his religious belief left him. Later, 
he lost his belief in any future after death. Farther on in 
the letter, he adds: 

"There you are with Birkbeck here I am with Brown 
sometimes I fancy an immense separation, and some- 
times as at present, a direct communication of Spirit with 
you. That will be one of the grandeurs of immortality. 
There will be no space, and consequently the only com- 
merce between spirits will be by their intelligence of each 
other when they will completely understand each other, 
while we in this world merely comprehend each other in 
different degrees the higher the degree of good so higher 
our Love and Friendship." 

The letter, a very long one, chats of many things, for, 
says Keats, "Within this last Week I have been every 
where," and he goes on to tell of calling on Georgiana's 
cousins, the Millars, in Henrietta Street; of going out with 
Mrs. Dilke to Walthamstow to see Fanny (Mr. Abbey 
does not seem to have objected to Mrs. Dilke as an ac- 
quaintance for his ward); of Haslam's constant kindness, 
his last attention being a gift of some especially thin paper 



124 JOHN KEATS 

for transatlantic correspondence (we shall hear of this thin 
paper again); of Leigh Hunt's just published Literary 
Pocket Book for 1819 (the first of the series), which he de- 
clares to be "full of the most sickening stuff you can im- 
agine/' although his own sonnet To Aiha Rock was in it; 
of dropping in on Hazlitt, and of going to see Kean in 
" Brutus a new Tragedy by Howard Payne, an American, 
on which his comment is: "Kean was excellent the 
play was very bad." Hunt has asked him to meet Tom 
Moore, and taken him and Brown to Novello's where "we 
were devastated and excruciated with bad and repeated 
puns Brown don't want to go again." The evening was 
"a complete set-to of Mozart and punning." The effect 
of this evening was to bring forth the following diatribe: 

" I was so completely tired of it that if I were to follow 
my own inclinations I should never meet any one of that 
set again, not even Hunt who is certainly a pleasant fellow 
in the main when you are with him but in reality he is 
vain, egotistical, and disgusting in matters of taste and in 
morals. He understands many a beautiful thing; but then, 
instead of giving other minds credit for the same degree of 
perception as he himself professes he begins an expla- 
nation in such a curious manner that our taste and self- 
love is offended continually. Hunt does one harm by mak- 
ing fine things petty and beautiful things hateful." 

Since Hunt's morals were nothing short of impeccable, we 
can see that Haydon had been one of the many people 
whom Keats had been seeing, for Haydon applied the 
word "morals" to religious opinions, a subject on which he 
and Hunt were forever at odds. 

In the midst of this confused jumble of activities, there 
suddenly peeps into the letter, and for the first time, a 
mention of Fanny Brawne. It was not only bull-dog grit 
which brought Keats back to the world; it was excitement, 
interest, delight and anxiety. It was, in short, love; for 
Keats was already deeply in love with Miss Brawne. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 125 

Nothing in Keats's life has been so misunderstood and 
misjudged as the relations between him and Fanny Brawne, 
and few women have had to suffer more from the ignorant 
malevolence of posterity than Fanny Brawne has. He, in 
his love for her, and she, in being the woman he loved, 
have been held up for pity and scorn by the critics of a 
hundred years. The odium began with Keats's friends, but 
Matthew Arnold capped the topmost tower of vitupera- 
tion when he called Keats's love-letters vulgar, and said 
they were the letters of a "surgeon's apprentice." The 
snobbishness under the calumny proves where the stricture 
really lies. Matthew Arnold, for all his culture, his reiter- 
ated cry for "sweetness and light," was an arch-snob. His 
attitude toward the people he met when he toured America, 
lecturing under the auspices of P. T. Barnum, is one proof 
of this, and there are many others scattered through his 
letters. Arnold was a snob in regard to people, but quite 
the reverse where books were concerned. People, he did 
not understand; books he did. The man who could say of 
Keats's poems: "No one else in English poetry, save 
Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating 
felicity of Keats, his perfection of loveliness" 1 was a 
shrewd judge of literary merit. But with all his shrewdness, 
Arnold never had the slightest conception of Keats's 
character. No inkling of the man, John Keats, ever 
entered his head. His very keenness of perception in 
literary matters, the fruit of years of training, perplexed 
and retarded his brain where people were concerned. And 
he had not the excuse of a jealous love, which in some 
measure exculpates Keats's personal friends. 

Let us look at the matter a little more sympathetically, 
and see, if we can, what is the truth of this sad and bitter 
love between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. 

Brown had a habit of going off somewhere every Sum- 
mer and letting his house for the period of his absence. 

1 Essays in Criticism. Second Series , by Matthew Arnold. 



126 JOHN KEATS 

In the Summer of 1818, while he and Keats were walking 
about Scotland, his tenants had been a widow lady named 
Brawne and her children, two girls and a boy. Fanny, the 
oldest of the family, was born on August ninth, 1800, and 
christened "Frances." A boy, Samuel, was the second 
child, he was still going to school at this period; the young- 
est was a girl named Margaret. Buxton Forman says that 
Mr. Samuel Brawne, the father, a "gentleman of inde- 
pendent means," 1 died while Fanny was still a child. At 
the time of their taking Brown's house, the Brawne family 
were total strangers to every one whom Keats knew, but 
by the time Keats returned to Hampstead a strong friend- 
ship had sprung up between them and the Dilkes. The in- 
timacy of the double house and the single garden would 
probably have produced such a result in any case, but in this 
there was unusual congeniality of tastes and tempers. So 
much had the Brawnes come to like Hampstead that, when 
the expiration of their lease and Brown's return made mov- 
ing imperative, they moved no farther than Downshire Hill. 
The friendship with the Dilkes continued continued, 
indeed for many years and Keats, a constant visitor at 
Wentworth Place, must assuredly have met Miss Brawne 
not long after his return, but just when we do not know. 
Dilke thinks it must have been in October or November, 
but also says that it was soon after Keats came back from 
Scotland. Since he was in Hampstead by the middle of 
August, it seems more probable that the meeting occurred 
not later than some time early in September. If it cannot 
be stated as a certainty, nevertheless it appears quite 
evident that the Brawnes were the friends to whose house 
he took his sister, as mentioned in his letter to her of Octo- 
ber twenty-sixth. 2 Something very like proof that this 
was so, lies in the fact that Abbey objected to his having 

1 Introduction to Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, edited by H. 
Buxton Forman. 

2 See Vol. II, p. 116. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 127 

taken his sister there, as he surely would not have done 
had the call been on the Dilkes, and the Dilkes and the 
Brawnes were the only people to whom Keats would have 
been likely to take her, being the only houses in Hamp- 
stead where he was on an intimate footing in which there 
were ladies; for certainly, in view of the strict conventions 
of the period, he would never have dreamt of taking a young 
girl to a house where there were only men, such as Brown's, 
for instance. Then, too, what more natural than to want 
the two Fannies to make each other's acquaintance, con- 
sidering that one was his only sister and the other the girl 
with whom he was in love. Fanny Brawne was only three 
years older than Fanny Keats, a difference of age the im- 
portance of which was bound to diminish with time. The 
two girls seem to have taken to each other at once, and her 
friendship with his sister appears to have been Fanny 
Brawne's chief comfort in the years immediately succeed- 
ing Keats's death. 

Apparently Keats fell in love with Fanny Brawne almost 
as soon as he met her. He himself considered that it was 
immediately. Writing to her from Shanklin in the follow- 
ing July, he says: 

41 1 have, believe me, not been an age in letting you take 
possession of me; the very first week I knew you I wrote 
myself your vassal ; but burnt the Letter as the very next 
time I saw you I thought you manifested some dislike to 
me. If you should ever feel for Man at the first sight what 
I did for you, I am lost." 

That he had not met her at the time of the Charmian 
episode, seems indubitable. The man who was haunted by 
the Reynoldses' cousin for a night had not then written 
himself down anybody's vassal. But we are distinctly told 
that the call on the Reynoldses, during which he met their 
East Indian relation, was the first he made to Little Britain 
after his return, and, intimate as he was with the Reynolds 



128 JOHN KEATS 

family, we may suppose that he went to see them as soon as 
he could. It is clear to see that, when he encountered the 
lady met at Hastings in the street near Bedford Row, he 
had given himself completely to Fanny Brawne, and had 
no room left for even the mildest philandering. 

Keats considered Fanny Brawne to be dowered with ex- 
traordinary beauty, an opinion which must, I fear, be put 
down to a lover's partiality. Some beauty she seems to 
have had, however, of a quasi-statuesque kind, to judge 
by the silhouette of her by the French silhouettist Edouart. 
Edouart was famous for his likenesses, so probably this is 
a good portrait, as far as it goes. Her hair is said to have 
been very beautiful. I have a lock of it, which is of a 
rather usual brown colour, but it may have faded. At any 
rate, whatever its hue, she was most particular as to its 
arrangement, wearing it interlaced with ribbons after the 
fashion of the time. Her eyes were blue and sparkling. She 
seems to have been something of a "rattle," as it used to be 
called, liking smart sallies and badinage, and an innocent 
measure of flirtation. With the statuesque figure I have 
mentioned, this manner may well have jarred and offended 
a fastidious taste; not because it was tasteless in itself, but 
because it did not suit her. 

Everyone who knew Fanny Brawne testifies to her de- 
termined and independent character. As Buxton Forman 
says, 1 probably from information supplied by her 
daughter, "it was not easy to turn her from a settled pur- 
pose." She was well educated for a girl of her class and 
period, and a voluminous, if not a particularly critical, 
reader, and this reading was by no means confined to light 
literature. Certain subjects which interested her, she fol- 
lowed up with steady perseverance; one of these and one 
which she is supposed to have studied with some thorough- 
ness was the history of costume, " in which she was so 

1 Introduction to the Keats-Brawne Correspondence, edited by H. 
Buxton Forman. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 129 

well read as to be able to answer any question of detail at a 
moment's notice." She was also interested in politics, 
which she was wont to discuss with fire and animation. 
Altogether a girl of no mean mental abilities, although 
legend has so carefully obscured the fact. In later life, she 
wrote for Blackwood's. She spoke and read both French 
and German, and amused herself, years after Keats's 
death, by making translations of German stories. 

There is no doubt that this somewhat imperious young 
woman for such seems to have been the manner she 
turned to the world at the time was used to admiration, 
and liked to dance. There were balls at Hampstead, balls 
at Woolwich, and those were the days just after Waterloo, 
when "military men" were much in vogue. Waltzing had 
just come in, and to waltz with an officer was bliss, in the 
eyes of eighteen. To Keats, who did not dance and who 
hated soldiers, this taste was incomprehensible and ir- 
ritating, which is nothing to marvel at, perhaps. But I 
find no real evidence that Fanny Brawne was over-much 
occupied with these things, legend to the contrary not- 
withstanding. Our chief informant on this side of Miss 
Brawne's character is a most untrustworthy one a 
cousin, who as a boy, seventy years earlier, had seen her in 
her mother's house. 1 His remarks verge on the malicious, 
and when we think how many years had elapsed, and how 
the legend had grown in the meantime, we shall not feel 
constrained to give his recollections unqualified credence. 

At the time Keats met her, Fanny Brawne was just 
eighteen. That she had enough sweetness and depth of 
character to fall in love with the poet, I think there can 
be no doubt; and I believe she thoroughly satisfied the 
passionate part of Keats's love, satisfied it to a painful 
extent considering that they could not marry. She kept 
Keats in a burning agitation of desire which, under the 
circumstances, she was powerless to gratify. How much of 

1 Account published in the New York Herald, April 12, 1889. 



i 3 o JOHN KEATS 

this she may have understood, we have not as yet sufficient 
means of knowing. But the other side of love, the maternal 
side, she scarcely seems to have been mature enough to 
comprehend. She certainly developed, and grew more 
tender, as time went on; but the mothering which Keats so 
sorely needed, she had only begun to learn to give him when 
he died. 

I think one must accord her a little pity, for she can 
have known very few hours of happiness in her love. It 
need not surprise us if the very violence of Keats's feelings 
kept her own somewhat in abeyance. She shows a rare 
patience with a lover who leaves her so much alone. He was 
forced to do so granted. But how many girls would have 
understood the reason and not resented the fact. People 
always speak as though it should have been enough for her , 
to have been engaged to such a genius. But only a poseuse 
engages herself to marry a poet, as such. To Fanny 
Brawne, Keats was the man she loved "my Keats/' 
she calls him not a genius writing poems for posterity. 
And just as she is beginning to understand him, his needs, 
his moods, he falls ill, and after that is only the misery of a 
fast-failing hope ending in despair. 

Fanny Brawne was no such charming and unusual 
character as George's wife, Georgiana Wylie, but neither 
was she the frivolous and heartless coquette which she is 
often represented to have been. Keats's friends thought 
her not worthy of him, but that would have been inevitable 
in any case, so highly did they regard him. That she 
married ten years after Keats's death, is nothing; ten 
years is a long time to cling to a memory so harassed and 
incomplete. Georgiana Keats married after her husband's 
death, but no one has dared to suggest that therefore she 
never loved George. If Fanny Brawne did, many years 
later, part with her miniature of Keats to Dilke, it is an 
unfortunate circumstance; and we are told that it was 
another unfortunate circumstance, nothing less than 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 131 

financial disaster to her husband, which brought it about. 
But she did not part with the copy of Lamia which the 
poet gave her, for her daughter gave it, many years after 
her mother's death, to Mr. Buxton Forman, who kept it 
until his death when it passed into my hands. 

Keats's mention of Miss Brawne in the letter to George 
was simply because he could not keep her out. The tone 
of his remarks shows how assiduously he was trying to 
throw dust in his brother's eyes as to his attitude toward 
her. From first to last, Keats was extraordinarily reticent 
about his love; it was too real, too deep, and he was too 
sensitive, to bear the thought of prying eyes and whispered 
speculations. The engagement, when it came, does not 
appear to have been announced in the usual manner; it 
leaked out, from all we can see, and became a settled fact 
to their mutual circle by degrees, as it were, gradually 
growing upon the consciousness of their friends from the 
evidence daily before their eyes. If Keats could not, for 
the life of him, keep Fanny Brawne out of his letter, he 
fondly believed he could throw his brother completely off 
the track by his manner of speaking of her. The charms 
of a Charmian he had no hesitation in detailing; Fanny 
Brawne's effect on him was beyond charm, so far beyond 
that he must belittle her or give himself away. Her first 
entrance into the letter is as follows: 

" Mrs. Brawne who took Brown's house for the Summer 
still resides in Hampstead she is a very nice woman 
and her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, 
graceful, silly, fashionable and strange we have a little 
tiff now and then and she behaves a little better, or I 
must have sheered off." 

Had Keats been a little more experienced, he would not 
have found this vivacious girl so strange. Fanny seems to 
have begun with him as she was accustomed to begin with 
all young men, a style of intercourse which Keats did not 



132 JOHN KEATS 

in the least understand. Yet we can imagine that her very 
strangeness, and the piquant unusualness (in Keats's ex- 
perience) of her address, combined with her entrancing 
frocks, were a considerable part of the lure in the first 
instance. What Keats was long in guessing was that this 
manner of wilful badinage was assumed to hide her real 
feelings, as there is considerable evidence to prove that 
she fell in love with him almost as soon as he did with her. 
A couple of pages farther on in the letter, Keats is con- 
strained to speak of her again. This time the dust is 
thrown in still larger quantities. Apropos of nothing, 
Keats suddenly begins: 

"Shall I give you Miss Brawne? She is about my 
height with a fine style of countenance of the lengthened 
sort she wants sentiment in every feature she manages 
to make her hair look well her nostrils are fine though 
a little painful her mouth is bad and good her Profile 
is better than her full-face which indeed is not full but pale 
and thin without showing any bone. Her shape is very 
graceful and so are her movements her Arms are good, 
her hands bad-ish her feet tolerable she is not seven- 
teen l but she is ignorant monstrous in her behaviour, 
flying out in all directions, calling people such names 
that I was forced lately to make use of the term Minx 
this I think not from any innate vice but from a penchant 
she has for acting stylishly. I am however tired of such 
style and shall decline any more or it. She had a friend to 
visit her lately ... a downright Miss without one set-off. 
We hated her and smoked her and baited her and I think 
drove her away. Miss B. thinks her a Paragon of fashion, 
and says she is the only woman she would change persons 
with. What a stupe She is superior as a Rose to a 
dandelion." 

Dust though this was, there were grains of truth in it. 
Keats was at once repelled and drawn. Drawn, alas, more 
by the girl's bodily attractions than by the spirit which 

1 This was an error. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 133 

animated them. This was one reason for the hard course 
of his love. There was too much of the merely physical in 
its composition. Unsatisfied desire kept him forever 
dwelling upon things which could not be, to the exclusion 
of that part of his lady which craved a fuller understanding. 
Fanny Brawne deserved better than this. Looking at their 
relations without bias, thrusting our minds away from the 
conventional interpretation, I think we must admit that 
he wronged her far more seriously than she ever wronged 
him. Her patience with him was unbounded; his with her 
was no bigger than a millet seed. 

It has been my good fortune to have come upon a num- 
ber of Fanny Brawne's letters, mostly written after Keats's 
death, to Fanny Keats. They are the property of a gentle- 
man who does not wish his name to be disclosed. But this 
anonymity need alarm nobody; there is no doubt as to the 
authenticity of the letters, as I, who have seen a couple of 
the originals, can testify. From these letters, we gain a very 
clear idea as to what sort of woman Fanny Brawne really 
was. Several of these letters, or rather parts of them, I 
must keep for insertion where they properly belong, but a 
few, dating from later years, I will give here, as a corrective 
to Keats's portrait. 

The first was written in the November after Keats's 
death: 

" . . . my brother was in the country ... As soon as he re- 
turned I sent him with a note for you and heard to my 
great surprise you were not expected for a week I hope 
by that time you will have an opportunity of reading ... I 
go on as usual reading every trumpery novel that comes in 
my way spoiling my taste and understanding, as for ac- 
quaintances I see none unless I take the trouble of going 
after them." 

Certainly Fanny Brawne was in mourning at this time, 
but what is ingrained does not alter. No giddy butterfly, 



134 JOHN KEATS 

such as she has been represented, could ever have been in 
the state of seeing no acquaintances. As for the novels, 
what a human touch they bring in, and let us not forget 
that Jane Austen was an omnivorous reader of that branch 
of literature. 

The letter from which the next quotation comes is un- 
dated: 

"I have been expecting some account of the pleasure I 
think you must have felt at King Lear though in it you did 
not see Kean to the best advantage and though the play 
itself is spoiled. 1 I have only seen Miss Edmiston in Lady 
Macbeth and admired her person but did not think much 
of her acting. In Cordelia she may be better ... the play 
itself is not one I should wish to see again. Read it as 
originally written and you will soon see the difference. 
They say, as a foolish reason for acting it in its present 
state that formerly it was too affecting but I am convinced 
that the more people are affected the more they are 
pleased . . . Dr. Johnson who saw it before the alteration 
said it was too much to bear and that nothing should 
induce him to sit it out again." 

There is intelligence here, and artistic feeling. The girl 
who wrote that passage was far more fitted to be Keats's 
wife than the wife of one of the officers who graced the 
Hampstead balls. That Keats's judgments were final to 
her, and that she was capable of assimilating his opinions 
and learning from him, the next quotation shows: 

"I have therefore sent you Spenser instead, which you 
will feel the more pleasure in reading as you will find the 
best part marked by one who I have heard called the best 
judge of poetry living they were marked for me to read, 2 
and I need not say with what pleasure I did so ... The 
serious poems of Lord Byron were given me by a school 
fellow ... I can remember being half wild about them 
learning and repeating continually when alone but as my 
1 It was given in a cut and bowdlerized version. 2 See Vol. II, p. 414. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 135 

dear Keats did not admire Lord Byron's poetry as many 
people do it soon lost its value with me. If I am not mis- 
taken he thought Manfred one of the best." 

Another undated letter contains a clue to what I believe 
to be the real Fanny Brawne. What she was in very truth, 
which is far indeed from what Keats first in his mis- 
understanding blindness; later in his sick suspicion 
sometimes conceived her to be. 

"How delightful it would be to have you with me to- 
night. I am quite alone I am always glad to get my family 
out (to provoke me they seldom ever go) and then highly 
favoured indeed is the person I would wish for or even 
admit. There is one and only one person in the world 
besides yourself that I would admit tonight and her coming 
is about as possible as yours I was asked out to tea by 
some friends who thought I must feel ' lonely ' for my 
part I think people are all mad." 

A young woman who likes to be alone has resources 
within herself, resources of mind; Fanny Brawne, eagerly 
looking forward to a few hours of solitude which only two 
people whom she knows (both women) are worthy to break 
in upon, can scarcely have been as avid for society as 
tradition would lead one to suppose. Either Keats's death 
changed her radically, or she never was the flibbertigibbet 
some of his friends chose to imagine. The latter is, I am 
certain, the correct view. As we follow the rest of Keats's 
short life, we shall be struck again and again by her sweet- 
ness, her loyalty, her charity and prodigious patience. 
She was not a woman to wear her heart on her sleeve. 
When Keats died, she was prostrated and seriously ill for 
some time. The severity of her illness is proved by the fact 
that her hair lost much of its colour. 1 A lady who knew 
her at this period recollects her as "a dignified looking 
woman, fair, but pale/' 2 and she remembers being told 

1 Unpublished letter of Fanny Brawne. 

* Quoted in Sweet Hampstead, by Mrs. C. A. White. 



136 JOHN KEATS 

that Miss Brawne had "lost her colour in an illness she 
had after her engagement with Keats was broken off." 
Broken off! It never was. Death, and death only, had 
the power to separate them, but the Hampstead gossips 
did not know that. 

So strongly, so deeply, so unalterably did Fanny Brawne 
love Keats, that when, twenty years later, Severn returned 
to England and wished to see her, she could not bring her- 
self to receive him, the associations connected with him 
were so painful; she feared to open a wound which was only 
too likely to bleed afresh. It is true that she finally mar- 
ried, but not until ten years had passed. Her husband was 
a Spanish Jew named Lewis Lindo; he afterwards changed 
his name to Lindon. Whatever comfort and peace she 
may have found in this marriage, she seems always to have 
cherished the memory of Keats as something sacred, but 
not to be spoken of. His letters she guarded with scrupu- 
lous care, and later, much later, when her children were 
grown up, she enjoined them to treasure these same letters, 
saying, with what must have been almost a pang of under- 
standing and loyalty, that "they would some day be con- 
sidered of value." 1 That this was her final sacrifice for 
Keats, his reputation, his vital claim on posterity, we can- 
not doubt. Far from condemning the suggestion which 
induced her children, years after her death, to permit the 
publication of these same letters, we should esteem it the 
crowning act of a love that, with the contemplation of 
years, had become heroic. She died in 1865. 

I have so far outrun time, because it is not my inten- 
tion to carry this book beyond the moment of Keats's 
death. The vicissitudes of his after fame have been am- 
ply treated by Sir Sidney Colvin. Fanny Brawne's life, 
as we know it, I have given here, since no clear under- 
standing of her character can be gained without taking 

1 Introduction to Keats- Brawne Correspondence, by Buxton For man. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 137 

all we can learn of her into consideration; also, this 
knowledge will help to clarify many things in the ensu- 
ing chapters. 

Keats, then, in mid-December, 1818, was already ir- 
revocably in love with Fanny Brawne. He felt enslaved, 
that is abundantly evident, not so much by Fanny herself 
as by love. His liberty, his unvexed concentration on 
poetry, he believed to be menaced by the presence of this 
imperious preoccupation from which he could not tear 
himself. It was a bitter and a glorious experience, but his 
alternations of hope and fear made his existence rather a 
fevered one. Undoubtedly his state of mind kept him from 
morbidly grieving over Tom's death as much as he other- 
wise would have done, and that was a good thing. All 
through December, Keats was suffering the fate of every 
young man in love. Will she? Won't she? Does she? 
Does she not? His mind struggled with these vital ques- 
tions every hour of the day. Yet Keats, encompassed by 
this haze of conjecture, agonized with apprehension, lifted 
up on the wings of an almost intolerable hope, made a fine 
effort to keep himself face forward towards the life he had 
mapped out and go on with his work. This was no easy 
task, but Keats had a strong will and an indomitable pride; 
so to work he went, because he was determined to do so. 
This is what he says to George: 

" I am passing a Quiet day which I have not done for 
a long while and if I do continue so, I feel I must again 
begin with my poetry for if I am not in action mind or 
Body I am in pain and from that I suffer greatly by 
going into parties where from the rules of society and a 
natural pride I am obliged to smother my Spirit and look 
like an Idiot because I feel my impulses given way to 
would too much amaze them I live under an everlasting 
restraint never relieved except when I am composing 
so I will write away." 

He wanted to write Hyperion, but found the doing so 



138 JOHN KEATS 

very difficult. In the letter to George, just before the 
second mention of Miss Brawne, he wrote: 

"I think you knew before you left England, that my 
next subject would be 'the fall of Hyperion.' I went on a 
little with it last night, but it will take some time to get 
into the vein again. I will not give you any extracts, be- 
cause I wish the whole to make an impression. I have 
however a few Poems which you will like, and I will copy 
out on the next sheet." 

The first of these copied poems is the rather long im- 
aginative piece, Fancy. It is written in trochaic hepta- 
syllables, the same metre that Keats had employed in the 
Mermaid Tavern and Robin Hood. Keats is never too 
happy in this metre. Professor de Selincourt thinks that he 
"was never completely successful/' with it "till he wrote 
the 'Eve of St. Mark.'" Professor de Selincourt forgets 
that the Eve of St. Mark is iambic, not trochaic, a much 
easier metre to write. Why the trochaic metre did not suit 
him, there is no saying; but it is a fact that his best poems 
were all written in iambics, whether the form were blank 
verse, heroic couplet, sonnet, or the heptasyllables of the 
Eve of St. Mark. Tripping metres were not in Keats's 
line. Keats heralds the poem to George very simply: 
"Here are the Poems they will explain themselves 
as all poems should do without any comment." 

No explanation was possible really. Fancy is once again 
a catalogue of "luxuries," but how inferior to / Stood Tip- 
toe, even though Keats had acquired a far greater firmness 
of presentation and a less adolescent attitude. The fresh- 
ness of delight is not here. This is a sober catalogue of 
beautiful facts, a whole year's gamut of beauty. Each 
season adds its quota, but Keats presents these things with 
the careful eye of observation rather than with the effer- 
vescence of wonder. This is Keats soothing his harassed 
soul by remembering the loveliness, quaintness, and charm 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 139 

of Nature, which, to him, was perennially peace-giving. 
In the imaginative world where his fancy strays, the three 
flowering seasons exist together; or rather, whatever is 
attractive in each one of the three is isolated and included. 
Some of the lines are extremely pleasant, as, for instance, 
these: 

"Thou shalt see the field-mouse peep 
Meagre from its celled sleep; 
And the snake all winter-thin 
Cast on sunny bank its skin ; 
Freckled nest-eggs thou shalt see 
Hatching in the hawthorn tree, 

Then the hurry and alarm 
When the bee-hive casts its swarm; 
Acorns ripe down-pattering, 
While the autumn breezes sing." 

The last line is poor, and Keats left it! That is a pity; he 
should have been able to improve it into something less 
commonplace. Yet he did work over the poem quite a 
little; there are many changes between the version sent to 
George and that printed in the Lamia volume. It is from 
the last that I have quoted. 

The second poem copied, Bards of Passion and of Mirth, 
is again heptasyllabic, and again Keats essays the trochaic 
form. The poem was originally written in his copy of 
Beaumont and Fletcher, on a blank page opposite The 
Fair Maid of the Inn. Keats told George that the subject 
was "the double immortality of poets." Undoubtedly 
the "bards" were Beaumont and Fletcher. It has been 
suggested that Keats found the idea of his poem in one of 
Wordsworth's, the third of the series printed under the 
title Memorial of a Tour in Scotland^ if so, he coupled it 
with recollections of Drayton's Muses Elysium. 1 The 
two poems taken together may very possibly have en- 

1 See Vol. I, p. 563. 



i 4 o JOHN KEATS 

gendered Bards of Passion. But no matter whence it came, 
the poem is dull, not felt, heavy to read and leaving no 
impression afterwards. 

Keats speaks of these poems as "specimens of a sort of 
rondeau which I think I shall become partial to because 
you have one idea amplified with greater ease and more 
delight and freedom than in the sonnet." Keats was 
always longing to "free" his verse, always trying experi- 
ments which should unshackle it from convention. That 
he never quite succeeded in his experimental efforts, was 
the fault of his time rather than of his endeavour. Why 
he spoke of these poems as rondeaux can only be attrib- 
uted to ignorance. As Professor de Selincourt aptly re- 
marks: "Keats's idea of the Rondeau form must have 
been somewhat vague." l They are no more rondeaux 
than they are limericks. For some inexplicable reason, 
Bards of Passion, when it was published in the Lamia 
volume, was entitled Ode it is as little of an ode as it 
is a rondeau. 

The third poem sent to George was a ten line piece, 
/ had a dove and the sweet dove died. Keats says he wrote it 
off "to some Music as it was playing," which fact prob- 
ably accounts for both its subject and its diction. The 
last two lines have a certain quaint charm: 

" I kiss'd you oft and gave you white peas 
Why not live sweetly as in the green trees?" 

Two more poems we know to belong to the year 1818, 
but to just what part of it we are in ignorance. I put them 
here at the end of the year simply because I can find no- 
thing like an exact date for either of them. The first in point 
of interest is a three stanza lyric without title, always 
known by its first line: Hush, hush ! tread softly ! hush, hush, 
my dear. Charlotte Reynolds told Buxton Forman that 
the song was composed to a Spanish air which she used to 

1 The Poems of John Keats, edited by E. de Selincourt. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT i 4 i 

play to Keats. She said that sometimes she played to him 
for hours. This fact is the chief reason for my putting the 
poem immediately after / had a dove, since it seems more 
than likely that it was Charlotte Reynolds's playing which 
had evoked that poem. In the case of Hush, hush ! tread 
softly ! the words seem to have been absolutely set to the 
air, for singing purposes. In truth, so lyrical is this little 
piece, so "singable," that a tune seems bound to belong to 
it. Alas! The "Spanish air" is forever lost to us. Slight 
as the song is, it has a haunting quality, and a delicacy 
which in no way obscures its underlying passion. In the 
last line but one Keats originally wrote "his soft twin- 
eggs"; Buxton Forman, not unnaturally, balked at "his" 
in this connection, but having found two manuscripts of 
the poem one in a copy of the Literary Pocket-book for 
1819, the other in a copy of Endymion he was relieved 
to discover in the first of these an alternative reading, 
"her soft brace" which he promptly made use of. Buxton 
Forman states that the version in the Endymion is "evi- 
dently later" than the other, and that it corresponds more 
closely to the text as given by Lord Houghton, but that 
the holograph lacks the final couplet. I have, however, 
found still a third version in the Woodhouse Book in the 
Morgan Library. It is not in Keats's handwriting, but in 
Woodhouse's, still Woodhouse undoubtedly copied it from 
one of Keats's manuscripts. In this Woodhouse copy, the 
offending "his" gives place to "her." The last line of the 
poem is Keats, Keats himself, the Keats who loved Fanny 
Brawne; its very extravagance is a key to his sensations. 
Whether he wrote the poem before he knew her or not, this 
was how he felt about her and this sort of thing was his 
undoing. Here is the couplet: 

"The stock-dove shall hatch her soft twin-eggs and coo, 
While I kiss to the melody, aching all through." 

To the people who object to this side of Keats, we can only 



i 4 2 JOHN KEATS 

say: "Love me, love my dog"; it is a part of him and 
cannot be ignored. 

The second poem which we cannot accurately place is a 
little fragment published without title. It begins : " Where's 
the Poet, show him! show him." In the British Museum 
volume of Keats manuscripts it is dated "1818." I think 
we can approximate a closer date if we consider the little 
piece in the light of Keats's letter of October twenty- 
seventh to Woodhouse, for the poem says practically the 
same thing as the letter. Keats's answer to the question in 
his first line is: 

" Tis the man who with a man 

Is an equal, be he King, 
Or poorest of the beggar-clan, 

Or any other wondrous thing 
A man may be 'twixt ape and Plato; 

'Tis the man who with a bird, 
Wren or Eagle, finds his way to 

All its instincts; he hath heard 
The Lion's roaring, and can tell 

What his horny throat expresseth, 
And to him the Tiger's yell 

Comes articulate and presseth 
On his ear like mother- tongue." 

The manuscript ends with a line of dots, showing that 
the poem was discontinued, but not finished. This is not 
surprising; what was written was far from promising. 

There is a third poem, if it can be called such, which, on 
no evidence at all, I am willing to attribute to this year. 
Buxton Forman judged it "to belong to the end of 1818 
or thereabouts," and although he does not give his reasons 
for this opinion, I can find no cogent ones for assigning it 
to a different date. Here, then, we will let it stand. It is a 
Spenserian stanza, which Keats wrote at the end of Canto 
II, Book V, in his copy of the Faerie Queene. It was first 
published by Lord Houghton in his 1848 edition, prefaced 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT i 43 

by a note in which the editor speaks of Keats's sympathy 
with Spenser's revolutionary "Gyant," and declares that 
in this stanza Keats expressed "his conviction of the ulti- 
mate triumph of freedom and equality by the power of 
transmitted knowledge." Professor de Selincourt com- 
ments on both the stanza and Lord Houghton's note 
upon it by saying: "The lines are interesting as one of the 
few illustrations in the verse of Keats of his democratic 
sympathies." This is all very well, but are not both gen- 
tlemen taking a mere jeu cT esprit a trifle too seriously? 
Keats's stanza, which seems to me too unimportant to 
quote here, is, I think, a joking expression of the far- 
reaching effect of print and how by means of it almost any- 
thing may be accomplished. As to Keats's democratic 
sympathies, I have already shown how little he really con- 
sidered such matters. His remarks to George about 
America 1 do not show him in much sympathy with the 
great democratic experiment of his time. The truth is that 
all efforts to foist upon Keats a social economic conscience 
break down before his complete indifference on the sub- 
ject. Twist his words about how we may, in the very few 
passages in his letters or his poems which can be made to 
serve, they are always capable of either another meaning 
entirely or of being attributable to a very youthful en- 
thusiasm for the political shibboleths of the Hunt school. 
Ethical, Keats certainly was; and quite as certainly he had 
no faith in any regeneration of mankind through the 
medium of political reform. But the main truth is that he 
lived aside from all such things; his work lay elsewhere. 
If Keats were determined to keep himself up to writing, 
he was no less determined that his walks, talks, tiffs, and 
makings-up with Fanny Brawne should undermine the 
general tenor of his life as little as possible. He made an 
immense effort, but did not entirely succeed. Severn's 
later recollections always have to be taken with a grain of 

1 See Vol. II, p. 109. 



144 JOHN KEATS 

salt, but what he records of this time seems so likely to be 
true that I think we may believe it to represent the facts 
without much exaggeration. In Sharp's biography of the 
painter, we find the following: 

1 "During the Autumn of 1818 Severn saw little of Keats. 
When they did meet, he noticed that his friend was dis- 
traught and without that look of falcon-like alertness 
which was so characteristic of him ... It certainly seemed 
as though the poet were losing strength and energy, for he 
ceased to take much interest in intellectual matters, and 
declared himself unable to take long walks or even indulge 
in any unnecessary exercise." 

Severn may have been thinking of the months which 
preceded Tom's death. But as he himself was only con- 
valescent from his serious illness in the middle of October, 
we may take his description as covering the weeks suc- 
ceeding Tom's death as well as the earlier ones. Probably 
Keats refused to walk with Severn that he might walk with 
Fanny Brawne; we know that they were in the habit of 
strolling on the heath together. Severn is quite wrong as to 
Keats's lack of interest in "intellectual matters," as we 
have abundantly seen, but when we remember Severn's 
teasing propensities, we cannot wonder that Keats 
shunned him at a time when both patience and spirits were 
sorely tried. Yet we are indebted to Severn for this de- 
scription of Keats's appearance, and for recording the 
apathy which people, even friends, who did not chime 
with his mood produced in him. 

Hazlitt had been lecturing again, this time on the Eng- 
lish Comic Writers, but Keats had been too tied down to go 
and hear him. It shows how cordially Hazlitt had come to 
regard him that, on one occasion when Keats went to see 
him at his lodgings in York Street, the older man lent him 
his lectures, now preparing for the press, to take home 

1 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 145 

with him. 1 We know this from the fact that Keats quotes 
a long passage from one of the lectures in his December- 
January letter to George, and the book did not appear until 
April, 1819. 

Keats, meanwhile, had begun to settle down in Went- 
worth Place, the good postman, Bentley, carrying over 
his books in a clothes-basket. Then came an invitation 
from Dilke's father to come with Brown and stay a few 
days at Chichester; and another from Dilke's sister, Mrs. 
Snook, to come to Bedhampton after the Chichester visit. 
Keats tells George: "They say I shall be very much 
amused. But I don't know I think I am in too huge a 
Mind for study I must do it I must wait at home and 
let those who wish come to see me. I cannot always be 
(how do you spell it?) trapsing." 

Keats was slowly regaining his tone; he could even see 
that the Quarterly article was not entirely without a touch 
of silver lining. "Gifford's attack upon me has done me 
service," he declares to George, " it has got my book among 
several sets." He also finds that his tastes are widening 
out: "A year ago I could not understand in the slightest 
degree Raphael's Cartoons now I begin to read them a 
little." One remark which Keats made at this time is il- 
luminating as to the point of view which was beginning to 
be his. He had been looking at a series of engravings taken 
from the frescoes of some Italian church. These frescoes 
were, he says: 

"Full of romance and the most tender feeling . . . But 
Grotesque to a curious pitch yet still making up a fine 
whole even finer to me than more accomplish'd works 
as there was left so much room for Imagination." 

In his appreciation of suggestion, Keats joins the moderns; 
although this, like so many others of his apprehended 
artistic truths, never got very far into his poetry. 

1 Life of William Hatlitt, by P. P. Howe. 



146 JOHN KEATS 

This book of engravings Keats had seen at Haydon's. 
Hay don had been of distinct benefit to him hitherto; but 
now the man's boundless egotism led him into an act of 
positive cruelty. He asked Keats for money, as he did 
everyone else, to be sure, but Keats was not fair game. 
He had just been through a terrible experience, he was 
not well (his sore throat had come back), his financial 
circumstances were not too satisfactory. But did Haydon 
care? Not a bit. Keats answered by telling him that he 
had "a sort of fire" in his heart that would "sacrifice 
every thing" he had to his friend's service, but begged 
that he " try the long purses" first. It is rather a pathetic 
letter. Keats admits that he feels in himself " all the vices 
of a Poet, irritability, love of effect and admiration," 
after which acknowledgment he goes on to tell Haydon 
why to lend money just then would be highly inconvenient: 

"I have a little money which may enable me to study, 
and to travel for three or four years. I never expect to 
make anything by my Books: and moreover I wish to 
avoid publishing I admire Human Nature but I do not 
like Men. I should like to compose things honourable to 
Man but not fingerable over by Men. So I am anxious 
to exist with [out] troubling the printer's devil or drawing 
upon Men's or Women's admiration." 

Haydon replied with one of his usual rhapsodies, but left 
the question of whether or not he would renew his demand 
in the air. 

Tom's death had altered affairs considerably. His 
allowance was, of course, discontinued, and Keats, who 
had always lived with his brothers on terms of share and 
share alike whichever one's money it was at the moment, 
found himself on very short financial commons. He had 
spent so much of his own principal that there was very 
little left, and Abbey declared himself puzzled as to the 
legal aspects of the case. Since Tom was dead, ought not 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 147 

his share of the grandmother's legacy to be joined to the 
grandfather's fund and so not become available until 
Fanny came of age? For Keats to lend anybody money in 
the predicament in which he was, was madness; and worse 
than that, weakness. He simply had not the strength of 
mind to refuse. On Christmas Eve, he wrote to Taylor, 
begging the loan of thirty pounds. "Ten I want for my- 
self and twenty for a friend," he innocently adds, 
promising to pay by the middle of January. Whether the 
"friend" were Haydon or not, we cannot tell; either he 
was not, or Taylor refused the money, for none of it went to 
Haydon, who continued to importune Keats during the 
following weeks, and Keats (how he got it, we do not know) 
was at last able to scrape up thirty pounds for him, a loan 
which Haydon never repaid. Keats's weakness in the 
matter of lending money annoyed his more sensible friends 
as it annoys posterity. At one time, he had over two 
hundred pounds of bad debts on his hands. 

Christmas drew near, and the time for going to Chiches- 
ter. Keats alleged his sore throat and let Brown go alone. 
His throat was practically always sore at this time, with 
only occasional intervals of relief, and still no one guessed 
the fatal headway which tuberculosis was making. 

Just before Christmas, Keats got himself into a little 
difficulty. He paid a call in Little Britain and discovered 
that Mrs. Reynolds took it for granted that he was to dine 
there on Christmas Day, and when he said that he had 
another engagement, the fact was not taken in too good 
part. Keats hated to hurt people's feelings, and the Rey- 
noldses were old friends, as his friendships went, so he sat 
down and wrote a letter of explanation to Mrs. Reynolds 
This is surely one of the most awkward epistles on record 
Keats was very much flustered, too flustered and deter 
mined as to what he intended to do to excuse himself witl 
either tact or plausibility. He assured Mrs. Reynold 
that the engagement was a previous one; that he shoulc 



148 JOHN KEATS 

not have accepted it, but "kept in Mind old friends," if 
he had not expected to be in Hampshire on Christmas a 
singular reason. He ends in this remarkable manner: 

" I will not speak of the proportion of pleasure I may 
receive at different Houses that never enters my head 
you may take for a truth that I would have given up 
even what I did see to be a greater pleasure, for the sake of 
old acquaintanceship time is nothing two years are 
as long as twenty." 

Since he had known the Reynoldses just two years, the 
inference is obvious. But what about the more important 
inference, the ill-concealed "greater pleasure"? Where 
was he dining? Charlotte Reynolds told Buxton Forman 
that she thought the other invitation was from Mrs. 
Brawne. It most certainly was, but not until the discovery 
of the letters of Fanny Brawne of which I have already 
spoken was it possible to realize the full significance of that 
evening. I think it is very certain that it was on this 
Christmas night that Keats and Fanny Brawne became 
engaged. In one of Miss Brawne's letters is what may very 
well be an allusion to this fact. She is writing on December 
thirteenth, 1821: 

11 1 dined with Mrs. Dilke a day or two ago ... we dine 
with them on Christmas day which is like most peoples 
Christmas days melancholy enough ... I cannot think it 
will be much worse than mine for I have to remember that 
three years ago was the happiest day I had ever then 
spent." 

Three years before was this very Christmas of 1818. Not 
only do Fanny Brawne's words seem clearly to point to a 
happiness altogether unusual, entirely beyond any other 
happiness of any previous days, even of this Autumn, but 
the evidence of circumstance seems to back up my theory. 
Keats could not bring himself to go to Chichester until 
almost the middle of January. To be sure, there was the 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT i 49 

sore throat, but that was still with him when he finally 
went. More than that, there is the Eve of St. Agnes, which 
I think was the direct result of the engagement; and there 
is the Ode to Fanny, which fits so well here that it must be 
taken into careful consideration. 

Perhaps I am wrong in speaking of an engagement, 
perhaps Fanny Brawne took some time to give her absolute 
consent. Whatever she may have said to Keats, we know 
from her letter what she felt, and she must have allowed 
Keats a considerable measure of hope or the Eve of St. 
Agnes would not have been written. Even supposing the 
engagement to have been made on that Christmas Day, 
that is no bar to the ups and downs of their relations during 
the rest of the Winter. Other lovers have experienced the 
same difficulties of adjustment, hosts of them. If Fanny 
Brawne's love for Keats grew stronger and fuller as time 
went on, it is but another proof that hers was not a shallow 
nature. 

The critics never cease to wonder at Keats's sudden 
spurt of productiveness, beginning in January with the Eve 
of St. Agnes, and then, after a vacant interval, bursting out 
in magnificent effervescence with La Belle Dame Sans 
Merciy the Ode to a Nightingale, the Ode on a Grecian Urn, 
and the less important odes To Psyche, On Melancholy, 
and On Indolence. The clue I believe to lie in just the fact 
of Keats's reciprocated love for Fanny Brawne. 

There is no doubt that Keats was a difficult and un- 
comfortable lover. His self-imposed absences must have 
been extremely trying. Keats leaves Fanny Brawne for 
months at a time, and waxes jealous and miserable if she 
goes out for an evening. Within two weeks of this Christ- 
mas Day, he left her for nearly three weeks. Indeed I 
think Fanny had much to bear. 

Keats dined again at the Brawnes', in company with the 
Dilkes, on the Saturday of the following week. This 
occasion he slurs over to George by remarking that 



150 JOHN KEATS 

"nothing particular passed." Perhaps not, nothing he cared 
to relate to his family in America, at any rate. But, if 
George and Georgiana were at all quick of observation, 
they might have learnt something of the way the wind was 
blowing from this little straw of an observation which fol- 
lows immediately upon the "nothing": 

" I never intend hereafter to spend any time with ladies 
unless they are handsome you lose time to no purpose. 
For that reason I shall beg leave to decline going again to 
Redhall's or Butler's or any Squad where a fine feature 
cannot be mustered among them all!" 

There is no difficulty in reading between the lines here, for 
Fanny Brawne was, in Keats's eyes, a houri of loveliness. 
A curious aspect of Keats's state of mind was that he could 
not rid himself of the feeling that his having fallen in love 
with Miss Brawne was in some way a disloyalty to his 
brother and sister-in-law. It is unnecessary to point out 
how essentially morbid such an idea was, but morbidness 
and Keats were old companions. Even in the first flush of 
his acknowledged love, he could write to George and 
Georgiana: 

"I have no thought pervading me so constantly and 
frequently as that of you my Poem cannot frequently 
drive it away you will retard it much more than you 
could by taking up my time if you were in England. I 
never forget you except after seeing now and then some 
beautiful woman but that is a fever the thought of 
you both is a passion with me but for the most part a calm 
one." 

How he tortured himself, poor boy! And how he harried 
Miss Brawne! Let us suppose for a minute what we do not 
certainly know that the Ode to Fanny was written at 
this time. Why not? The mood of the poem was almost a 
chronic one with Keats, it is true; but there are expressions 
in the Ode which show clearly that, at the time he wrote it, 



SORROW AND READJUSTMENT 151 

the engagement was a very recent thing. If we recollect 
that Hyperion was balking badly, we shall quite under- 
stand the first stanza, and I am positive that the "wintry 
air " was actual fact. Keats was housed with his throat and 
knew he must not go out, hence his "Beckon me not into 
the wintry air." Fanny was evidently going to a dance a 
New Year's dance, Buxton Forman suggests and Keats 
was not well enough to go with her. The lines which prove 
the engagement to have been but just made are: 

". . . do not turn 
The current of your heart from me so soon." 

This is from the third stanza; in the seventh, he says again: 

" Ah! if you prize my subdued soul above 

The poor, the fading, brief, pride of an hour; 

Let none else touch the just new-budded flower." 

The theme of the poem may be paraphrased as: Be not too 
kind to the men with whom you are going to dance to- 
night, and his plea 

". . . keep me free, 
From torturing jealousy." 

If I am right in thinking that an engagement, or at least 
what is called an "understanding," had been agreed to 
between the lovers on Christmas night, the Ode to Fanny 
most certainly belongs to the very end of December or the 
beginning of January. 

The sore throat began to ease a little, and Keats's 
conscience was not quite comfortable about old Mr. Dilke 
and the Snooks. Perhaps, too, being himself, he felt the 
need of rest, of a dull and uneventful interval to soothe the 
poignance of his sensations. At any rate, to Chichester he 
went about the middle of January, and from there to the 
Snooks'. All we know of the exact dates of these visits is 



152 JOHN KEATS 

that he told George: "I was nearly a fortnight at Mr. John 
Snook's and a few days at old Mr. Dilke's," and that he 
and Brown wrote a composite letter to the Dilkes from 
Bedhampton on January twenty-fourth, in which Brown 
reported that he and Keats had walked there from Chi- 
chester the day before. 

A pleasant little sketch of Keats at this time is contained 
in a letter which Mrs. Dilke wrote to her father-in-law as a 
sort of introduction to his expected visitor, whom he had 
never met. This is what Mrs. Dilke thought it wise to say 
concerning him to an elderly man who might be a little 
puzzled at first: 

" You will find him a very odd young man, but good- 
tempered, and good-hearted, and very clever indeed." 

The stigma of "oddness" is the price a myopic world 
always exacts of genius, but since he was also "good- 
tempered, and good-hearted," even in the eyes of this same 
world, we may conceive that he was even odder than Mr. 
Dilke senior would have been likely to think, for, after all, 
he was certainly a genius. 

Thus Keats wrenched himself away from Fanny Brawne 
and went down to join Brown at Chichester. 



CHAPTER X 
SWIFT CURRENTS 

KEATS was not "very much amused" at Chichester; in 
fact, he was not amused at all. It could hardly be expected 
that any young man much in love, who had recently 
declared himself and been given considerable encourage- 
ment, if nothing more, would find any place not in the 
vicinity of his idol highly amusing; but in this case, Mr. 
Dilke's method of entertaining his "odd" guest seems even 
odder than the guest himself. A couple of "dowager Card 
parties," as Keats calls them, were the sole outings of his 
" few days" there. We may be sure, however, that he and 
Brown strolled round the neighbourhood and wandered 
into the cathedral. Keats dearly loved cathedrals, we have 
already seen him flying from Margate to Canterbury, and 
before this year, 1819, is out we shall find him flying again, 
from the Isle of Wight to Winchester. Chichester cathedral 
fell in comfortably with a sort of pseudo-mediaeval mood 
which he had fallen into. Why a mediaeval mood? one 
may ask. Well, consider the circumstances a little. Keats 
had been working on Hyperion, with no great impulse, how- 
ever, if his own general discouragement with his progress 
on it can be taken as evidence. After the fateful Christmas 
dinner at the Brawnes', he was less in tune with it than 
ever, probably. The excitement of his new situation as an 
accepted, or quasi-accepted, lover turned the current of his 
thoughts in an entirely different direction. The age of 
chivalry had always stood to Keats as a symbol of the 
strength and beauty of love. Its decor was to him the 
perfect setting for romance. The Endymion story had 
meant a dream of the ideal, but by no effort could it be 
made to represent the actual. Knights and ladies, on the 
other hand, were strictly human. They could, without 



1 54 JOHN KEATS 

difficulty, be taken to personify real people. Yet his point 
of view can hardly be supposed to have been as square- 
toed as this. Rather he found in the entourage and type of 
thought of chivalric legend something sympathetic and 
alluring. The over-plus of emotion under which he was 
labouring, suddenly deflected from its natural outlet of 
intercourse with Fanny Brawne, sublimated itself into 
creative energy, and the immediate result was the com- 
position of the Eve of St. Agnes. 

St. Agnes' Eve is January twentieth, a date which was 
practically synchronous with Keats's arrival at Chichester. 
Since he left Chichester on Saturday, January twenty- 
third, and was there only a "few days," he cannot have 
been more than at the very beginning of his visit on the 
twentieth. Woodhouse states l that the poem was written 
"at the suggestion of Mrs. Jones," a remark which has 
much puzzled Sir Sidney Colvin, and no wonder, since no 
such person makes her appearance anywhere else in any of 
the known sources of information as to Keats's life or work. 
When we remember Keats's habit of concealing real names 
from the prying curiosity of the indefatigable Woodhouse 
by substituting imaginary ones in their stead, the puzzle 
becomes a puzzle no longer, I think. We know nothing of 
Mrs. Jones, because there is nothing to know; there was no 
such person. Keats hid the name of the real lady under a 
conventional Jane Doe pseudonym. There was a lady, but 
who was she? If we hazard a guess, circumstances leave us 
hovering between two very possible persons. She was either 
Mrs. Brawne, or old Mrs. Dilke, she may even have been 
Fanny Brawne herself, but this I think improbable. Let us 
take the two chances and weigh them. We will suppose 
that Keats left Hampstead for Chichester on either Tues- 
day or Wednesday, January nineteenth or twentieth; it 
could not have been much earlier, as we have seen. Un- 
doubtedly his last evening before starting was spent in 

1 Woodhouse Commonplace Book (Poems II). Crewe Collection. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 155 

company with the Brawnes. Somehow the conversation 
may have turned on St. Agnes' Eve. "You will be away on 
St. Agnes' Eve," or "Why, you are going down on St. 
Agnes' Eve," are remarks which, in such a case, may very 
well have been made, leading to a subsequent narration by 
Mrs. Brawne of the well-known legend, with the sugges- 
tion that it would make a good plot for Keats. So much for 
the Mrs. Brawne theory. As to Mrs. Dilke, if Keats did 
actually arrive at Chichester on St. Agnes' Eve, a family so 
steeped in antiquarian lore as the Dilkes are most likely to 
have mentioned the day, and this conjecture holds good 
even if he had arrived the day before. On the whole, I am 
inclined to consider the Mrs. Brawne theory as the most 
tenable on two accounts. The first is that Keats had every 
possible reason for not mentioning Mrs. Brawne's name to 
Woodhouse; his secret! veness in regard to his intimacy 
with the Brawnes with people who did not know them 
would have forced him to this, while, in the case of old Mrs. 
Dilke, only a sense of fitness could have induced him to 
obscure her identity. The second account is that Mrs. 
Brawne would have been much more likely to have 
suggested that Keats try his hand at a poem on the subject 
than old Mrs. Dilke, who had known him only a scant 
twenty-four hours or so. Young Mrs. Dilke at Went- 
worth Place is a third possibility, but as Keats's familiar 
footing in Dilke's house was known to everybody, there 
seems no reason why he should have objected to mention- 
ing her to Woodhouse. Mrs. Brawne, then, I think it un- 
doubtedly was to whom Keats owed the suggestion that he 
write a poem on St. Agnes' Eve. 

Packed up with his clothes and brushes and other things 
in the portmanteau which Keats carried with him to Chi- 
chester was some of the thin oblong paper which Haslam 
had given him to write to America upon. Perhaps Keats 
intended to start a letter to George while he was gone. How- 
ever that may have been, it was not as a letter to George 



156 JOHN KEATS 

that the oblong sheets in the portmanteau were to serve, 
they were destined for a more important fate, for on them, 
in the dull and quiet moments surrounding the "dowager 
Card parties," Keats wrote a part, or sketched the whole, 
of the first draft of the Eve of Saint Agnes. His own account 
of the proceeding sent later to George is as follows: 

"I took down some thin paper and wrote on it a little 
poem call'd St. Agnes' Eve, which you shall have as it is 
when I have finished the blank part of the rest for you." 

From his speaking of "the blank part of the rest," it 
seems clear that the poem was not even finished in skeleton 
form until after his return to Hampstead. Lord Houghton, 
who probably had the information direct from Brown, says 
that the poem "was begun on a visit to Hampshire, at the 
commencement of this year [1819] and finished on his re- 
turn to Hampstead." The manuscript of the first draft is 
still in existence. 1 I, who have handled it many times, can 
testify to the thinness of the oblong paper. That sheets of 
such extreme frailty should have lasted intact for a hun- 
dred years is due simply to the fact that they have had but 
four owners during the time. This manuscript was one of 
the many that fell into Severn's hands on Keats's death. 
There never seems to have been any regular distribution 
of Keats's belongings. Brown, in England, divided Keats's 
books among his friends in a rough and ready fashion, allot- 
ting to each friend such volumes as each had given the 
poet, returning lent copies to their rightful owners, and as 
to the rest, giving some away and keeping the remainder 
himself. Others of Keats's circle appear simply to have 
appropriated to themselves whatever relics of Keats they 
happened to have. Severn evidently regarded himself as 
heir to such papers as Keats had carried to Rome. Severn 
certainly meant well in constituting himself the guardian 

1 Author's Collection. Locker-Lampson manuscript referred to by 
Buxton Forman. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 157 

of these papers, but his kind-hearted simplicity has proved 
most unfortunate to posterity. For Severn, in his delight 
at the constantly increasing number of Keats's admirers, 
could not bring himself to refuse requests made to him for 
"something in the poet's handwriting," and to meet these 
demands he took to cutting up long manuscripts and giv- 
ing them away a few lines at a time. One of the copies of 
Otho the Great was mutilated in this way, as was also the 
Pot of Basil. This manuscript of the Eve of St. Agnes lacks 
the first seven stanzas, or the first original sheet. It has 
been suggested that the sheet was separated from the rest 
to point out a mistake in the proof which Keats referred to 
in a letter of June eleventh, 1820, to Taylor. But since 
Woodhouse had already made a transcript of the poem for 
his Commonplace Book, which was always at Taylor's serv- 
ice for consultation, 1 since also the mistake which Keats 
desired corrected was perfectly clear without any reference 
to the manuscript, it seems far more likely that the separa- 
tion of the first sheet from the others was due to one of 
Severn's blundering kindnesses. Whatever occurred, no 
trace of this missing sheet has yet been found, although the 
letter to Taylor has been preserved. 2 

The sources of the Eve of St. Agnes have occupied 
commentators not a little. Some of the suggestions made 
have been strangely fantastic, as is inevitable, for rare 
indeed is the commentator who is content with a simple 
solution to any query. Leigh Hunt, who reprinted the 
poem entire in his London Journal on January twenty-first, 
1835, interpolating between the stanzas a most interesting 
running commentary, and reprinted the whole again in his 
volume Imagination and Fancy y published in 1845, * s q u *te 
content with citing the old and well-known legend in this 
connection. The rites proper to be performed on St. Agnes' 
Eve were probably as familiar to earlier generations of Eng- 
lish-speaking people as are those of All Hallowe'en to ours. 

1 Buxton Forman. * Author's Collection. 



158 JOHN KEATS 

The commentator who should seek far afield for the source 
of a poem dealing with the ceremonies of the latter night 
would, I think, be treated to an amused smile. Even suppos- 
ing that Keats needed any source other than the conversa- 
tion with " Mrs. Jones," there was popular rumour and the 
day itself. I cannot leave this aspect of the poem, however, 
without just glancing at two of the most recent suggestions 
as to source. They are both ingenious, but each is, I be- 
lieve, beside the mark, although for very different reasons. 
The first of these suggestions was made some seventeen 
years ago by Dr. Henry Noble MacCracken. 1 It is to the 
effect that certain analogies to the Eve of St. Agnes are to 
be found in Boccaccio's early prose romance, IlFilocolo. To 
my mind, these analogies are by no means so cogent as 
they seem to Dr. MacCracken, and for a very simple 
reason: every one of them belongs to the stock in trade of 
romantic narrative and is almost as much a commonplace 
of the type as is the existence of a love episode itself. In 
// Filocoio, the two lovers, Florio and Biancofiori, he a 
Moorish prince of Spain, she a Christian damsel, are 
brought up together, but later separated. Their childish 
affection for each other has ripened into passion with the 
years, and their enforced separation is a great grief to both. 
On one occasion, Florio learns that Biancofiori is shut up 
with her ladies in an impregnable tower. On the eve of a 
festival, he manages to get himself conveyed into the 
tower hidden in a basket of roses. Emerging therefrom, he 
throws himself on the mercy of Biancofiori's aged attendant, 
Glorizia, begging her to get him speech with her mistress. 
Glorizia promises to hide him in Biancofiori's bed-curtains. 
She then seeks out Biancofiori and invents a fictitious 
dream in which, she tells the lady, she beheld Florio enter- 
ing Biancofiori's chamber while she slept. Biancofiori, 
much comforted by the dream, mingles in the festivities, al- 

1 The Source of Keats' s 'Eve of St. Agnes? in Modem Philology. Vol. V. 
1907-1908. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 159 

though she cannot conceal her melancholy mood. Evening 
arrived, and Florio duly conducted to his hiding place, 
Biancofiori comes into the chamber, where, assisted by 
Glorizia, she undresses, the old crone taking care to keep 
her impatience for Florio at stretch by suggesting that he 
may perchance come, that he may not, in short that either 
event is possible, but that neither can be predicted. Bianco- 
fiori at last in bed, Glorizia leaves her, and after a time the 
lady falls into a troubled sleep from which she is soon 
aroused by Florio making impassioned love to her. As he 
does so, two magic carbuncles suddenly glow with a soft 
light, causing the chamber to become as bright as day. 
Biancofiori, who has been dreaming the actual scene, can- 
not at first reconcile herself to an awakening which she 
hardly comprehends to be a realization. Florio finally 
convinces her that the fact and the dream are identical. 
The lovers vow themselves to each other, a ring is ex- 
changed, and the night is passed in complete understand- 
ing and mutual satisfaction. 

Boiled down to absolute resemblance, what do these 
parallels amount to? Next to nothing, really. A young 
man and a young woman are deeply in love with each other, 
but separated by untoward circumstances. Keats's un- 
toward circumstances take the form of a family feud divid- 
ing their two houses. Keats need only have thought for a 
moment of Romeo and Juliet to have conceived that much 
of his plot, and the old attendant as go-between is but a 
duplicate of the nurse in Shakespeare's play and in any one 
of a dozen old romances. A lover concealed in his lady's 
chamber is part of the machinery of romantic narration the 
world over, and Keats's method of handling the scene is as 
unlike Boccaccio's in // Filocolo as can well be imagined. 
Keats's lovers flee away into the night together. Nothing 
of the sort happens in // Filocolo. It has been suggested 
that the magic carbuncles duplicate Keats's moonlight 
through the stained glass window. But why? Keats needed 



160 JOHN KEATS 

no carbuncles to remind him of the moon. We know that 
he was reading the old Spanish romance, Palmerin of 
England, in Southey's translation just about this time, and 
I have already shown how many were the purely colour 
passages he underscored in that book. 1 

It will be seen, therefore, that this whole episode from // 
Filocolo bears only the very vaguest resemblance to the 
structure of the Eve of St. Agnes. As to the question of 
whether Keats could ever, have read, or been told of, // 
Filocolo, 1 think we must accord it a decided negative. At 
the time Keats wrote the Eve of St. Agnes y he could not read 
Italian. He read the Decameron in an English translation, 2 
and Dante in the translation of the Rev. H. F. Gary. In 
the following September, Keats had started to read a little 
Italian, beginning with Ariosto, "not managing more than 
six or seven stanzas at a time/' but that he had reached any 
such point by the beginning of the year, that he had even 
looked at an Italian book with a view to reading it at that 
date, there seems no possible reason for supposing. And 
why on earth should he have wanted to read this extremely 
dull early work of Boccaccio when there were so many 
better books which he might have read? For in the 
original he must have read it, if he read it at all, since there 
was no English translation, and only a French seventeenth 
century one which there is no reason to believe he had ever 
come across. More cogent than mere speculation on the 
subject is the fact that Hunt suggests no such source for 
the poem, and he himself was the most likely person to have 
turned Keats's attention to // Filocolo if there had been 
any turning at all, which it seems perfectly evident there 
was not. Boccaccio took parts of his tale from the old 
French romance, Florice et Blanche fleur. It would take 
more study than I propose to give to the subject to deter- 

1 See Vol. I, p. 103; also Appendix C. 

* Sir Sidney Colvin quotes Woodhouse to the effect that the translation 
read by Keats was that published by Allen Awnmarch. Fifth Edition. 1624. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 161 

mine where Boccaccio departed from, and where he kept 
to, his original. Suffice it to say that a fragmentary Eng- 
lish mediaeval version of the romance, quoted by George 
Ellis in his Specimens of Early English Metrical Romance 
published in 1806, a book which Keats may have read, 
contains none of the particular incidents upon which Dr. 
MacCracken bases his theory. In the light of all this, I 
think we may dismiss Dr. MacCracken's speculation as 
interesting, but without a leg to stand on. 

The second suggestion of source which I have mentioned 
was made three or four years ago by Miss Martha Hale 
Shackford. 1 Miss Shackford considers that she has found 
certain close scenic and verbal parallels between Keats's 
poem and Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. And the 
truth is she has found them; but, owing to the perfectly 
unrelated manner in which she has been obliged to cull 
them from Mrs. Radcliffe's novel, they prove nothing 
more than a vein of reminiscence, if I may so express it. 
Miss Shackford presents her theory with perfect temperate- 
ness and common sense, and without demanding more for 
it than it will bear. The only question is whether it can be 
made to bear anything at all of real importance. It is quite 
true, as Miss Shackford says that: 

"The setting of Mrs. Radcliffe's story possessed many 
elements that seemed revived by Keats. There was the 
solid grandeur of an ancient Gothic castle, with shadowy 
galleries, mysterious staircases, moonlit casements, and 
gorgeous apartments hung with arras glowing with 
medieval pageantry. The feudal life with old retainers 
serving an arrogant master and his carousing friends is 
pictured in both works." 

Yet there is an essential difference here, for Mrs. Radcliffe's 
story is laid frankly in the eighteenth century, its medise- 

1 The Eve of St. Agnes and the Mysteries of Udolpho, by Martha Hale 
Shackford. Reprinted from the Publication of the Modem Language Asso- 
ciation of America. Vol. XXXVI. No. i. 1921. 



1 62 JOHN KEATS 

valism is pure pastiche, while Keats's tale is chivalric 
legend throughout. 

For the midnight scene in the chapel in the Eve of St. 
Agnes, Miss Shackford finds striking resemblances in two 
widely separated scenes in the Mysteries of Udolpho, one 
in Chapter vm, the other in Chapter xxxi. For various 
references to the old woman in the poem, there are others 
to an old woman in Chapter XLIII and XLIV of the novel. 
The young woman guiding the old woman down the stair- 
case in St. Agnes is very closely tallied in the last of these 
chapters, but the errands which bring about this parallel of 
events are entirely different. 

Miss Shackford cites as important the journey through 
winding passages to a room, and indeed the analogies here 
are rather striking. In Stanza xill of the poem, Porphyro 

. . followed through a lowly arched way," 
and eventually 

". . . found him in a little moonlight room 
Pale, lattic'd, chill, and silent as a tomb." 

And in Stanza xxi are these lines: 

". . . Safe at last 

Through many a dusky gallery, they gain 
The maiden's chamber, silken, hush'd and chaste.' 

In Chapter xxxil of Udolpho we read: "I have only to 
go ... along the vaulted passage and across the great hall 
and up the marble staircase, and along the north gallery 
and through the west wing of the castle, and I am in the 
corridor in a minute," and another passage of much the 
same purport appears two chapters farther on. While 
toward the beginning of Udolpho there are several re- 
semblances: "As she passed along the wide and empty 
galleries, dusky and silent, she felt forlorn and appre- 



SWIFT CURRENTS 163 

hensive"; and again, some hundred pages earlier, "the 
lattices were thrown back, and showed . . . the moonlight 
landscape"; and twenty pages beyond this, "The couches 
and drapery of the lattices were of pale green silk, em- 
broidered and fringed with green and gold." 

Now these are slight things, and I do not think can be 
properly called parallels at all, yet there is an atmosphere 
in them which, taken apart from the special atmosphere 
of Mrs. Radcliffe's book, does connote the atmosphere of 
Keats's poem. It is as though Keats found lying round 
in his mind certain knick-knacks and sparkling trinkets 
dropped from an old dismantled image which when 
furbished up and set to a new and different use prove most 
acceptable additions to an already ordered scheme. 

Miss Shackford gives various references to stained glass 
windows, one of which 

". . . by the blunted light 
That the dim moon through painted casements lends" 

is not from Udolpho at all, but from another book of 
Mrs. Radcliffe's, The Emigrants. There are also various 
references to lutes, and to the sound of singing. One line of 
St. Agnes: 

"And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old" 

Miss Shackford considers "very subtly related, possibly, 
to a verse quoted in an early chapter of the romance, about 
a landscape, 

'Beauty sleeping in the lap of horror.'" 

I wonder if this is such an unusual metaphor as Miss 
Shackford thinks, it does not seem so to me. 

I wish I had space to quote more of Miss Shackford's 
analogies, but I have given enough to show how she has 
determined her parallels. To find verbal verisimilitudes 
between a poem three hundred and seventy-eight lines long 



164 JOHN KEATS 

and a four volume novel was a task requiring unflagging 
zeal and bright enthusiasm, and Miss Shackford has 
certainly proved how deeply the Mysteries of Udolpho had 
sunk into Keats's mind. Whether this was all reminiscence 
from an earlier reading, a reminiscence which sprang into 
life when contemplating the special scenery which he 
needed for St. Agnes> or whether it derived from a recent 
re-reading of the romance, there is no telling, but it does 
seem as though there were too many verbal echoes to leave 
the whole matter to recollection. For instance, Mrs. Rad- 
cliffe says: "Silver tripods, depending from chains of the 
same metal, illumined the apartment"; Keats writes: 

"A chain-droop'd lamp was flickering by each door." 

Keats's old nurse exclaims : " Well-a-well-a-day ! " Theresa, 
in UdolphOy uses the same exclamation in a slightly differ- 
ent form, "A-well-a-day." Keats puts: "By all the saints 
I swear"; Mrs. Radcliffe has: "You must promise me by 
all the saints." 

In the slang of the day, Miss Shackford "started some- 
thing" with her theory, but what she started was not 
precisely what she expected it to be. For, closely as certain 
effects, certain expressions, certain scenic properties from 
Mrs. Radcliflfe's book seem to have stuck in Keats's mind, 
deftly as he appropriated these effects, these expressions, 
these properties to his own use whenever he needed them, 
it was always something indubitably his own that they 
were made to serve. In any other than the most frag- 
mentary and superficial sense there is no slightest re- 
semblance between the Eve of St. Agnes and the Mysteries 
of Udolpho. Not in plot, touch, nor temper are the two 
books in the least alike. Miss Shackford has shown us that 
Keats was far more familiar with Mrs. Radcliffe's works 
than had been supposed, that is the principal result of her 
inquiry. The way in which Keats's mind hugged im- 
pressions is finely demonstrated in her paper, as too is his 



SWIFT CURRENTS 165 

remarkable way of divorcing subsidiary impressions from 
a total effect, so making it possible for him to separate the 
single from the general, the essential from the unimportant, 
that which was suggestive to him from that with which he 
had no concern. Taken thus, as a quarry, the Mysteries of 
Udolpho may well be reckoned as one of the books which 
had considerable to do with Keats's imaginative develop- 
ment. Looked at from this angle, Miss Shackford's paper 
is of great value; seen from the viewpoint of a possible 
"source" for St. Agnes , in the generally accepted meaning 
of that term, her researches lead practically nowhere. 

As a matter of fact, Keats probably owed as much of the 
peculiar atmosphere of his poem to Coleridge's Christabel 
as to the Mysteries of Udolpho. Even some of Miss Shack- 
ford's particular parallels are duplicated in Christabel. 
There are the hanging lamps, for instance, which I have 
already cited, and which in Christabel become 

"The lamp with twofold silver chain." 

In Udolpho, Emily has a favourite dog who follows her and 
barks; Keats brings in a "wakeful bloodhound"; Coleridge 
has a "mastiff bitch." Keats's debt to Christabel was very 
possibly a conscious one; his debt to the Mysteries of 
Udolpho was in all likelihood quite unconscious. For Keats 
experienced books as most people experience life, and his 
leanings upon Mrs. Radcliffe seem to have assumed to him 
something of the form of a childhood recollection not 
completely risen to the plane of thought. At the same 
time, we must not forget that the Mysteries of Udolpho was 
almost certain to have been on old Mr. Dilke's shelves, 
and Keats may have been moved to glance through it 
again in an idle moment, without any conscious connection 
between it and his poem; the result of such re-reading would 
be to stir up forgotten pools of memory of which he himself 
would scarcely be aware. 
The Eve of St. Agnes is one of those poems, often among 



166 JOHN KEATS 

the most beautiful, which spring out of reading. It is 
written in the Spenserian stanza, and contains more than 
one reference to Spenser. Here are bits of Gary's Dante- 
suggestions of the Elizabethans; chips of Chatterton; a 
fragment of Burton; a little flash from Shakespeare. For 
all these strands of reminiscence I must refer my readers 
to Buxton Forman's and Professor de Selincourt's editions. 
Extraordinarily interesting as these things are, I cannot 
dwell too long upon them here. It is high time that we re- 
turned to the poem itself, and to its subject, which is its 
one indisputable source the legend of St. Agnes' Eve. 
Leigh Hunt adduces Brand's Popular Antiquities as a 
convenient book in which to read of the legend. This work, 
first published in 1813 in an edition of two quarto volumes 
edited by Sir Henry Ellis after Brand's manuscript notes, 
was probably well known to Keats. In it is given a brief 
sketch of the legend proper, and a much longer commentary 
on the popular superstitions and ceremonies which had 
grown up about it. St. Agnes was a Roman virgin, a 
convert to Christianity, who was sentenced to suffer 
martyrdom in the tenth persecution under the Emperor 
Diocletian, A.D. 306. According to the legend, "She was 
condemned to be debauched in the public stews before her 
execution, but her virginity was miraculously preserved by 
thunder and lightning. 1 Not long after her death, her 
parents, going to pray at her tomb, saw in a vision a host of 
angels with their dead daughter in the midst, and a lamb 
standing beside her as white as snow, an emblem of her 
spotless purity. With the centuries, St. Agnes assumed in 
the popular mind a special tenderness toward pure young 
girls, and took them under her protection to the extent of 
according them the power of seeing their future husbands 
in a dream on one night of the year, the eve of the day 
sacred to her. Certain ri tes had to be performed preparatory 
to the receiving of this boon, of which the principal seems 

1 Brand's Popular Antiquities. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 167 

to have been that the girl who courted St. Agnes' favour 
must fast all day and go to bed fasting, and must not kiss 
man, woman, or child until her dream lover broke the fast 
with her. This was called "fasting St. Agnes' fast." The 
young girl must lie on her back with her arms clasped be- 
neath her head, and falling asleep in this position she will 
dream that a man is standing beside her bed, and that 
man she will marry. These rites differ somewhat in differ- 
ent places, and Brand gives one or two variants of them, 
but as the one I have given was the one followed by Keats 
we need not concern ourselves with the others. Among 
many quotations which show the prevalence of the custom, 
Brand prints some lines from Ben Jonson's Satyr, which 
were probably familiar to Keats. They are: 

"And on sweet St. Anna's 1 night 
Please you with the promised sight, 
Some of husbands, some of lovers, 
Which an empty dream discovers." 

To see one's love in a dream, and know that however 
many ups and downs the waking course of true love is 
obliged to undergo the desired end will certainly be ac- 
complished eventually, must have been a very sympathetic 
idea to Keats, enduring his first separation from Fanny 
Brawne. His whole soul was in St. Agnes' Eve^ his humanity 
and his genius sublimating themselves through the longing 
of separation into a finely tempered whole. This is Keats's 
first completely successful long poem, and the first of his 
narratives not disfigured by glaring immaturities. Per- 
haps Hunt is not far wrong when he says: "Among his 
finished productions, however, of any length, the Eve of St. 
Agnes still appears to me the most delightful and complete 
specimen of his genius." And he goes on: " It is young, but 

1 Professor de Selincourt points out that Ben Jonson probably changed 
the name "Agnes" to "Anna" out of compliment to Queen Anne, for whose 
entertainment the Masque of The Satyr was performed. 



168 JOHN KEATS 

full-grown poetry of the rarest description; graceful as the 
beardless Apollo; glowing and gorgeous with the colours of 
romance." Hunt's expression here is a little florid, but has 
he not gone to the core of the matter? And Hunt knew 
what he was talking about, no man better. Here is what he 
has to say of Keats's technique: "Let the student of poetry 
observe, that in all the luxury of the Eve of St. Agnes there 
is nothing of the conventional craft of artificial writers; no 
heaping up of words or similes for their own sakes or for the 
rhyme's sake; no gaudy common-places; no borrowed airs 
of earnestness; no tricks of inversion; no substitution of 
reading or of ingenious thoughts for feeling or spontaneity: 
no irrelevancy or unfitness of any sort. All flows out of 
sincerity and passion. The writer is as much in love with 
the heroine as the hero is; his description of the painted 
window, however gorgeous, has not an untrue or super- 
fluous word; and the only speck of a fault in the whole 
poem arises from an excess of emotion." 

An excess of emotion there certainly is in the Eve of St. 
/ignes y but however much of a fault that may be in certain 
types of poetry and unquestionably controlled emotion 
is generally far more effective than that which is over- 
expressed in this particular poem I cannot regard it as a 
fault. The poem is singularly homogeneous in texture. It 
is all one long sensuous utterance. Not sensual it is 
never that but lyrical. It is an expression of lyrical 
emotion presented in the form of a tale. In it, Keats writes 
as poet and astounding craftsman. Every scrap of effec- 
tual knowledge which he knew he wrought into it; his feel- 
ing for colour, his sensitiveness to verbal music, his power 
of condensed suggestion, these are all here. His very pro- 
fusion is a part of his effect. No one of Keats's manu- 
scripts which I have seen is so carefully worked over as 
this. A glance at the reproduction of two of the pages of 
the first draft will show how shrewdly and carefully he 
shaped and reshaped his material, always with the object 



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SWIFT CURRENTS 169 

of increasing some splendour, making clearer some manner 
of feeling, adding some brighter lustre to an image, capti- 
vating the ear with some stranger, more unexpected, har- 
mony of sound. This was Keats following his own advice 
tendered to Shelley a year and a half later to "load every 
rift with ore." His mood was the antithesis of astringent. 
His prime care was to give his emotion full rein, only en- 
deavoring to keep the expression of it to the level of his 
best achievement, and in this he signally succeeded. To 
those people who are forever condemning the sensuous 
aspect of Keats's conception of love, there is but one 
answer. That sensuous beauty of this kind is its own per- 
fect excuse, and we already know that natural beauty of 
all sorts stood to Keats as a religion, or, at least, as the sole 
possible way of expressing the truths which were religion 
to him. St. Agnes' Eve was a great choral hymn written to 
celebrate his love for Fanny Brawne. To say that he had 
to be separated from her to bring it into existence, is 
merely to state a truism of the functioning of the creative 
faculty. Poetry is seldom written in the midst of an action 
or a state of being; reflection is its essence. It is the per- 
fume of something which has been, but is not; a remem- 
brance and a hope, but a fact no longer. 

I suppose that few poems in the English language are so 
well known and so much loved as the Eve of St. Agnes. It 
stands as a personal efflorescence to generation after 
generation of young people. This is a poem for youth, and 
youth alone is capable of appraising it. As we grow older, 
we may come to prefer others of Keats's poems to it, but 
to the age to which it appeals it is completely satisfying, 
and little more praise can be given to any poem than this. 
Browning has spoken of " the last of life for which the first 
was made," a consoling idea to those who see life constantly 
shortening in front of them; but was he right? I fear not. 
Youth is more than age, energy worth more than medi- 
tation. The Eve of St. Agnes is a paeon of youth, a great 



170 JOHN KEATS 

masterpiece and epitome of one of the principal ages of 
man. 

I call the Eve of St. Agnes a "choral hymn" and I do so 
advisedly, for its effect is not single and melodic, but 
massed and contrapuntal, and this double effect is kept up 
throughout. In the first place, there is the environment and 
the time set with the extreme of clarity in the opening 
stanzas of the poem: the freezing Winter night, outside the 
castle; inside, the chill chapel with the monuments of dead 
knights and ladies who seem to "ache in icy hoods and 
mails." The cold night is made none the less bitter by 
the draughty gusts of loud music which sweep along the 
corridors, and this metallic music, this piercing sound of 
"silver, snarling trumpets," gains an added touch of mag- 
nificence and chill from its juxtaposition to the sculptured 
architraves from which 

"The carved angels, ever eager-eyed, 

Star'd, where upon their heads the cornice rests, 
With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their 
breasts." 

This, which we may call the motif of night, and cold, 
and heartless splendour, is never allowed to sink out of 
consciousness for very long; even when the love motif 
itself is in full swing, in the scene between Porphyro and 
Madeline in Madeline's chamber, suddenly across the 
silence 

"The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion, 
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet, 
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone: 
The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone." 

And it follows through to the end of the poem, in the de- 
scription of the arras which lines the passages along which 
the lovers flee, 

"Flutter'd in the besieging wind's uproar," 



SWIFT CURRENTS 171 

in the drunken Porter asleep "in uneasy sprawl," in the 
"wakeful blood-hound/' in the "foot-worn stones" of the 
hall, and the door groaning upon its hinges. 

The second theme of the poem is the story of Porphyro 
and Madeline, with its symbols of the fast and the subse- 
quent supper, as lightly and delicately tinted as the great 
hall is grey with sculptured stone and garish with plumes 
and flashing armour. Throughout the poem, Keats plays 
two sets of impressions, of emotions, against each other. To 
the sound of the kettle-drums and metallic wind instru- 
ments, he opposes strings, the strings of a lute. Against the 

" . . argent revelry 
With plume, tiara, and all rich array," 

in the "thronged resort" of the great hall, he sets the 
"pallid moonshine" of the little still chamber, and the 
faint, beautiful colours thrown by the moonlit window. 
Never was riot more skilfully made to enhance silence. The 
world, and the soul; the life of outward seeming and in- 
ward fruition no allegory, but a provable and proven 
fact. 

But the Eve of St. Agnes is more than simply choral, it is 
antiphonal as well. For Keats, even in the heydey of his 
love experience, could not quite shake off" his natural 
morbidness. Sinister, cynical, the mutter of death shudders 
always just beneath the surface of the tale. The lovers are 
happy, but beside them in the castle death sweeps upon its 
prey. Angela, the Beadsman, both die; the storm which 
protects the flight of the lovers howls round the castle 
suddenly become a tomb. It is the old story of the cruelty 
of nature. 1 For two who are happy, life demands the 
insatiable toll of death. It is no mere charming tale of love 
which Keats has written here, but a profoundly dramatic 
study of an unplumbed mystery. And it is on this note 
that Keats ends his poem. 

1 See Vol. I, p. 614. 



172 JOHN KEATS 

St. Agnes' Eve is so familiar to all readers of poetry that 
any detailed description of it seems unnecessary. Neverthe- 
less, there are a few little points which I wish to touch upon 
before we finish with it for the moment. One thing which 
should be carefully noted is the extraordinary way in 
which Keats was able to stay the movement of composition 
in order to correct his impulse. This is a very difficult 
thing to do, and yet, in this instance, much alteration, and 
several false starts, do not seem to have lessened the vigour, 
the ttari) of his creative power in the slightest degree. A 
careful study of the two pages which I have reproduced 
will teach a student more of the marvellous way in which 
Keats was capable of holding to the thread of his uncon- 
scious creation, while at the same time consciously employ- 
ing his critical faculty, than pages of explanation could do. 
All these variations and changes are reproduced by Buxton 
Forman, 1 but only by seeing them set down as Keats, in 
the hurry of composition, wrote them, can we really compre- 
hend how, and why, they came to his mind. 

The stanzas about the window are in many ways the 
finest in the poem. What if Keats did make the mistake of 
supposing that moonlight was strong enough to transmit 
the colour values of stained glass, does it matter a jot? 
Would any one wish these stanzas away because they are 
false to fact? The truth of art is not necessarily the truth of 
nature. Where a poet has made undeniable beauty, the 
critic does well who refrains from applying a rule of thumb. 

Hunt has pointed out what appears a distinct weakness 
in Stanza xxv, where Keats says that Porphyro, looking 
at Madeline kneeling beneath the moonlit window, "grew 
faint" at the sight of her purity and loveliness. Hunt did not 
apparently know that this faintness was part and parcel of 
romance narrative, and that Keats was merely following a 
very old model in introducing it, but, leaving that aside, 

1 The Compute Works of John Keats, Edited by H. Buxton Forman. 
5 vols. Gowans & Gray. Glasgow, 1900-1901. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 173 

what Hunt has to say on this subject is absolute truth, and 
should be taken into consideration by every reader: 

"He had, at the time of his writing this poem, the seeds 
of a mortal illness in him, and he, doubtless, wrote as he 
had felt, for he was also deeply in love; and extreme 
sensibility struggled in him with a great understanding." 

That last clause might be taken as a motto for Keats's life. 
Some years ago, there was a good deal of controversy in 
the newspapers as to the exact meaning of the line: 

"Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray." 

What the various proponents of certain ingenious guesses 
said, is of no moment, for what Keats meant was assuredly 
known to Hunt, who explains the line in this way: 

" Clasp'd like a missal in a land of Pagans: that is to say, 
where Christian prayer-books must not be seen, and are, 
therefore, doubly cherished for the danger." 

A single one of these newspaper epistles made a valuable 
suggestion, however. I quote a part of this letter: 

1 " In seeking for the source of Keats's line in the ' Eve of 
St. Agnes,' 

'Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray,' 
it may be well to ask whether the poet was not referring to 
a particular book. If a certain missal was much written 
and talked about in literary circles at this time, and if 
further it was a missal that had been used by Christians 
dwelling among the swart paynims (all of whom, as good 
Mohammedans, are pretty regular in their praying), there 
is a chance that this was the book that touched the poet's 
imagination and supplied the simile. 

As it happens, a copy of a missal which meets these 
conditions is now in the British Museum. It appears in 
the catalogue as ' Missak mixtum secundum regulam beati 

1 From a letter by Professor Fred Newton Scott, University of Michi- 
gan, in the New York Evening Post, May 3, 1911. 



174 JOHN KEATS 

I'sidori dictum Mozarabes . . . In regali civitate Toleti, 1500.' 
The character of this missal, and its repute among book 
fanciers of Keats ? s time, are indicated by [certain] notes 
upon Lord Spencer's copy at Althorp, in T. F. Dibdin's 

' Bibliotheca Spenceriana' . . . 

That Keats actually saw either Dibdin's work or the 
missal itself there is, as far as I know, no proof, although it 
is not greatly straining probability to suppose that he saw 
both. Keats was in 1818-19 often at the house of Charles 
Wentworth Dilke, and it may be that he saw Dibdin's 
work in Dilke's library. I put the question some time ago 
in a letter to the late Sir Charles Dilke and received from 
him the following reply: 

'Alas! I can't be sure, but I think I remember that this 
book was either at Belmont Castle (my great aunt's) or 
at Chichester. My great-grandfather's books, etc., were 
divided between my great uncle and his sister. I took from 
both libraries the books of my great-grandfather which had 
his book plate, but it is not among them. 1 " 

It is so extremely likely that Keats should have seen 
Dibdin's Bibliotheca Spenceriana at one of these two houses, 
since it, like all Dibdin's books, was extremely popular 
with antiquarians, that I think Professor Scott's suggestion 
should not be left hidden in the files of a newspaper. When 
we consider the strangeness of Keats's simile, a quasi-clue 
of this sort is not to be slighted. 

One more thing I wish my readers to notice. The grad- 
ual increasing and brightening of the colours as the love- 
scene continues, and the marvellous way in which these 
colours are managed. From the lights of the window, the 
symbol is continued through the banquet; but the window 
tints are stated, the hues of the fruits merely implied, it 
would have marred both effects to have duplicated the 
technique employed in them. The window colours and the 
colour of the table-cloth are "flat," given simply as them- 
selves; the fruits are heightened by inference, they are full, 



SWIFT CURRENTS 175 

rounded, literary, if you like, and this change in the method 
of presentation sets them before us in the most excellent 
relief. From this moment, the room becomes warm with 
" perfume light." It is a beautiful conceit to have For- 
phyro think of these colours the "lustrous salvers" 
gleaming in the moonlight, the "golden fringe" of the 
table-cover lying upon the carpet as almost noisy in 
their effect, as though so much brilliance must wake Made- 
line. 

It has been the fashion to condemn Keats's "carpets." 
Unnecessary preciosity! Carpets were known in Europe 
even before the assumed period of Keats's poem. 1 They 
seem to have been chiefly used for ladies' bowers, so that 
the presence of one in Madeline's chamber was entirely ac- 
cording to custom. As to those in the corridors, there is 
no absolute reason to condemn them, but it is quite possi- 
ble to conclude that Keats here used the word "carpet" 
in its sense of "covering," and meant to imply woven 
rushes rather than woven stuffs. 

The colour symbols having served their turn, Keats 
quenches them with the setting of St. Agnes' moon and the 
beginning of the elfin storm. Admirable indeed is Keats's 
manipulation of his various themes and meanings in the 
last five stanzas of the poem. Even at the very moment 
when we are told of Porphyro that "into her dream he 
melted," at that very instant come the words: 

" . . . meantime the frost- wind blows 

Like Love's alarum pattering the sharp sleet 
Against the window-panes; St. Agnes' moon hath set." 

The dream is over, reality has begun. Past death, mis- 
understanding, the imprisonment of personality, the lovers 
escape toward life together, not into a live-happy-ever- 
after kind of existence, but into the stress and storm of a 
future which at least they face side by side. 

1 Encyclopedia Britannica. Eleventh Edition. 



176 JOHN KEATS 

Begun at Chichester, continued undoubtedly at Bed- 
hampton, and gone on with, we know, after Keats's return 
to Hampstead, the Eve of St. Agnes did not receive its final 
revisions until the following Autumn at Winchester. 

On Saturday, January twenty-third, Keats and Brown 
left old Mr. Dilke's and walked over to Bedhampton to the 
Snooks', a distance of ten miles; although they reached the 
Snooks' house by three, Brown records that they found 
dinner already over. In the same paragraph in which he 
mentions this disappointing fact, Brown tells Mrs. Dilke 
that " Keats is much better, owing to a strict forbearance 
from a third glass of wine." The reference to the wine is a 
joke, yet it seems to have been a fact that Keats's sore 
throat was a little better during the first days of his stay 
away from home. But the improvement was short-lived. 
On his return to Hampstead, he wrote his sister: "At Bed- 
hampton I was unwell and did not go out of the Garden 
Gate but twice or thrice during the fortnight I was there." 
A singular excursion provided by his hosts for Monday, the 
twenty-fifth, the second day after his arrival, was a dis- 
tinct imprudence for Keats, undertaken, as it was, in the 
rain. A famous Jew converter, the Rev. Mr. Lewis Way, 
who lived at Stanstead House near Racton in Sussex, had 
built a chapel in his park, and the chapel was to be conse- 
crated on that day with the Bishops of Gloucester and 
St. Davids officiating. Why such an occasion should have 
been expected to interest Keats, is a query. To be sure, 
Mr. Way bore the remarkable reputation of having visited 
all the chief rabbis from Rotterdam to Moscow in his 
efforts at proselytizing. It had taken him nearly a year to 
accomplish this feat, and he was become a distinct celebrity 
in local and church circles thereby. To the consecration, in 
duty bound, Keats went, "Brown, I, and John Snook the 
boy ... in a chaise behind a leaden horse. Brown drove, 
but the horse did not mind him." We can imagine the soggy 
roads, the trio crushed beneath the pulled-over hood of the 



SWIFT CURRENTS i ?7 

chaise, the everlasting slow plod of the horse, the smell of 
damp leather and steaming horseflesh, the occasional low 
branch catching the chaise top and showering a sudden 
volley of little drops inside. It was a depressing drive, and 
to Keats a depressing occasion. It aroused all his spleen 
toward established religious organizations. This sort of 
thing was the negation of religion to him, it irritated him 
beyond measure and he let himself go about it in a letter to 
George written soon after he got back to town: 

" The consecration was not amusing. There were num- 
bers of carriages and his house crammed with clergy. 
They sanctified the chapel, and it being a wet day, conse- 
crated the burial-ground through the vestry window. I be- 
gin to hate parsons; they did not make me love them that 
day, when I saw them in their proper colours. A parson is 
a Lamb in a drawing-room, and a Lion in a vestry. The 
notions of Society will not permit a parson to give way 
to his temper in any shape so he festers in himself 
his features get a peculiar, diabolical, self-sufficient, iron 
stupid expression. He is continually acting his mind is 
against every man, and every man's mind is against him. 
He is an hypocrite to the Believer and a coward to the un- 
believer. He must be either a knave or an idiot and 
there is no man so much to be pitied as an idiot parson. 
The soldier who is cheated into an Esprit de Corps by a red 
coat, a band, and colours, for the purpose of nothing, is 
not half so pitiable as the parson who is led by the nose by 
the bench of bishops and is smothered in absurdities a 
poor necessary subaltern of the Church." 

Keats's opinion of the clergy had recently received a 
severe set-back from his learning of the sudden and un- 
expected engagement of his friend Bailey to Miss Hamilton 
Gleig, the daughter of Bishop Gleig, and the sister of his 
intimate friend. I have spoken of this event before; 1 we are 
concerned with it now merely as it affected Keats. The un- 
fortunate character of this affair was due simply to the fact 

1 See Vol. I, pp. 478-479- 



178 JOHN KEATS 

that Bailey had gone to Scotland the declared, although 
not the accepted, suitor of Marianne Reynolds. Looking 
at the matter from this distance of time, it seems a little 
fantastic to hold a man bound to a woman who had 
definitely refused him. But middle-class etiquette in such 
matters was very severe in the England of the early nine- 
teenth century. Keats was profoundly shocked, and his 
opinion seems to have been duplicated by all the Reynolds 
circle. By Bailey's behaviour, Keats tells George, 

"all his connections in town have been annulled both 
male and female. I do not now remember clearly the facts. 
These however I know He showed his correspondence 
with Marian to Gleig returned all her Letters and asked 
for his own he also wrote very abrupt Letters to Mrs. 
Reynolds . . . No doubt his conduct has been very bad. 
The great thing to be considered is whether it is want of 
delicacy and principle or want of knowledge and polite 
experience. And again weakness yes, that is it; and the 
want of a Wife yes, that is it ... Mariana's obstinacy is 
some excuse but his so quickly taking to Miss Gleig can 
have no excuse except that of a Ploughman who wants 
a wife. The thing which sways me more against him than 
anything else is Rice's conduct on the occasion; Rice 
would not make an immature resolve; he was ardent in his 
friendship for Bailey, he examined the whole for and 
against minutely; and he has abandoned Bailey entirely. 
All this I am not supposed by the Reynoldses to have any 
idea of." 

These remarks about Bailey led Keats to a beautiful and 
wise observation, one of those observations which show us 
the very heart and core of his continual reflections: 

"A Man's life of any worth is a continual allegory, and 
very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life a life like 
the scriptures, figurative which such people can no 
more make out than they can the Hebrew Bible. Lord 
Byron cuts a figure but he is not figurative Shakespeare 
led a life of Allegory: his works are the comments on it." 



SWIFT CURRENTS 179 

Bailey seems to have kept all Keats's letters, and that he 
should have received none on the occasion of Tom's death 
certainly looks as though Keats knew this long story some 
time earlier than he wrote it to George, in February. When- 
ever he found it out, it put a succinct end to any farther 
real friendship between them. Keats does not seem to have 
mentioned the subject to Bailey, merely to have dropped 
Bailey quietly and unobtrusively. One more letter to 
Bailey we have, written in the following August, but it 
reads more like an attempt to appear easy than anything 
else, as though Keats thought it wise to keep up the 
semblance of a relation, for, after all, the quarrel was none 
of his. But the life of their friendship was dead, and no 
other letters passed between them. 

The long, wet drive to and from Stanstead brought back 
Keats's sore throat, and he was housed for practically the 
whole rest of his visit; but he liked the Snooks and seems to 
have enjoyed talking to them. 

If his "fortnight" is to be taken as exact, Keats returned 
to Wentworth Place on February sixth. He came back in 
miserable health, and much tormented by a fresh evidence 
of Abbey's desire to separate him still farther from his 
sister. Abbey now expressed his unwillingness to allow the 
brother and sister to correspond. This hurt Keats very 
much, as did Abbey's manner on one or two occasions 
when he went to see him; finally Keats took the bull by 
the horns and wrote Abbey a letter which had some effect 
in inducing him to grant the brother and sister a little more 
freedom together. 

Keats's state of mind on his return to Hampstead seems 
to have been a decidedly complicated one, and only a tithe 
of his perplexities appears in his letters. His scrupulous 
care to keep everything connected with Fanny Brawne and 
his real relation to her from his brother's knowledge, leaves 
his narration of events psychological events, at any 
rate singularly incomplete. To supplement it, we have 



i8o JOHN KEATS 

the evidence of the poems he wrote during the Spring, and 
a few annotations in a book he happened to be reading at 
the time. Buxton Forman imagines that Keats announced 
his engagement to his brother and sister-in-law in a letter 
which has been lost; I see no reason for any such suppo- 
sition. On the contrary, I think everything we can judge 
by points to the fact of Keats having admitted an engage- 
ment only after seeing George on the latter's return to 
England in the following year, when it would be almost im- 
possible to conceal it any longer. What George and Georgi- 
ana may have guessed from the letters of others of the 
circle is another thing. I feel very sure that Keats took as 
few people as possible into his confidence at any time, and 
then only when the circumstances had become too patent 
to be ignored. 

Whatever Keats did, or did not, say to his friends and 
his brother and sister-in-law, it is obvious that Fanny 
Brawne, and the overwhelming love for her in which he 
found himself plunged, filled him with turmoil and all the 
alternations of extreme joy and fearful distrust which we 
should expect. With our intimate knowledge of his tem- 
perament, we need not be astonished to find him turning 
even his happiness into an exquisite self-torture. For his 
moments of sheer felicity and we may be certain that he 
had such moments to excess there were others in which 
his imagination conjured up a thousand puerile infidelities 
and laid them at Fanny Brawne's door to the consequent 
discomfort of both. Let us admit, once and for all, that 
Keats must have been a very uneasy lover. It would be 
small wonder if Fanny Brawne occasionally asked herself 
whether this exacting and excitable young man could 
make any woman really happy, yet that seems to have 
been a question which, in sober earnest, she never asked. 
She made her choice and abided by it, all honour to her for 
so doing. 

As a matter of fact, the outlook from a commonsense 



SWIFT CURRENTS l8 i 

standpoint was not at all assuring. Keats had no idea that 
he was already a victim of consumption, but he did know 
that he was strangely liable to sore throats, and was often 
on the sick list for days at a time. On his return to Went- 
worth Place, he took himself firmly in hand and shut him- 
self up in the house. " Since I came back," he wrote to his 
sister, "I have been taking care of myself I have been 
obliged to do so, and am now in hopes that by this care I 
shall get rid of a sore throat which has haunted me at in- 
tervals nearly a twelvemonth." A long engagement is one 
thing; an engagement which can count on no change in 
circumstances such as will make marriage possible, is an- 
other. Mrs. Brawne had a little money, but scarcely 
enough for her to contemplate the financing of a second 
household; Keats had made large inroads into his princi- 
pal and the chancery suit left his hopes for the future 
extremely problematical. He had no settled means of 
support, and was determined at all costs to write poetry 
come what would. There was enough in all this to cause 
anxiety. 

At first, after he got home, the writing fit continued. In a 
journal letter to George, begun on February fourteenth, 1 he 
says: "We Brown and I sit opposite one another all 
day authorizing." He seems to have been engaged in tinker- 
ing on the Eve of St. dgnes, but he also began the Eve of St. 
Mark. Woodhouse, who states 2 that he copied the poem 
from Keats's manuscript, adds that it was written " 13/17 
Feb., 1819." St. Mark's Eve falls on April twenty-fourth, 
so that the day itself counted for nothing in Keats's choice 
of subject. Probably it grew out of the already partly fin- 

1 The letter is dated "Sunday Morn, Feby. 24 th 1819," but this is 
clearly an error made either by Keats himself or some later copyist. The 
correct date is undoubtedly February 14 th , since that was a Sunday. A 
continuation of the letter is dated "Friday Feby 18" which is probably 
right as to the day of the week, although the day of the month should have 
been given as the nineteenth. See Appendix D. 

2 Woodhouse Commonplace Book (Poems II). Crewe Collection. 



1 82 JOHN KEATS 

ished Eve of St. Agnes. Notwithstanding that he had one 
superb poem nearly done, and another, which promised to 
be as good, fairly on the stocks, Keats found himself unable 
to go on. The excitements and anxieties which beset him 
proved too harassing to leave him in the proper frame of 
mind for writing poetry. He tells George: 

iu ln my next packet, as this one is by the way, I shall 
send you my Pot of Basil, St. Agnes' eve, and if I should 
have finished it, a little thing called the eve of St. Mark. 
You see what fine Mother Radcliffe names I have it is 
not my fault I did not search for them. I have not gone 
on with Hyperion, for to tell the truth I have not been in 
great cue for writing lately I must wait for the spring to 
rouse me up a little. " 

As the Eve of St. Mark, although begun in February, was 
so soon abandoned and not taken up again until Septem- 
ber, I shall wait to consider it until the Winchester period. 
What principally troubled Keats was undoubtedly his 
adjustment to Fanny Brawne. With Keats, love and 
jealousy were inseparable. We can guess at the state of 
things by a rather pathetic little remark in a letter to his 
sister Fanny. Speaking of the Abbey's garden at Waltham- 
stow, he says: 

"I should like to take possession of those Grassplots for 
a Month or so; and send Mrs. A. to Town to count coffee 
berries instead of currant Bunches, for I want you to teach 
me a few common dancing steps and I would buy a 
Watch box to practise them in by myself." 

Keats, who did not dance, was at an obvious disadvan- 
tage at a dancing-party, and to be at a disadvantage where 
Fanny Brawne was concerned must have galled him terri- 
bly. There is no record of his having mastered his "danc- 
ing steps," but there is a record of the way conditions 
were worrying him, and this record is from a most unex- 

1 Corrected from original letter. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 183 

pected source a copy of Palmerin of England. 1 We have 
Hunt's authority for the fact that Keats was reading Pal- 
merin at this time. The book had been lent him by Taylor 
and he liked it so much that he never returned it, it was 
found among his books after he died and given back to its 
rightful owner by Brown. Now in this book there are a 
number of passages underscored by Keats, and some of 
these underscorings can hardly have been made for any 
purpose other than the personal application which he 
found in the passages so marked. These particular annota- 
tions are all in the third and fourth volumes of the work, 
the first of them can certainly not have been noticed for its 
excellence as poetry. It is: 

"Some men in love commend their happiness, 
their quiet, sweet, and delicate delight; 
And I can boast of fortune's forwardness, 

her extreme rigour, and severe despight. 
But for the sweetness other men have felt, 
I came too late, my part was elsewhere dealt." 

The next passage scored is: "it is the nature of women to 
desire to see novelties, and go pilgrimages." Again, Keats 
marks a passage where a knight overhears another boast- 
ing that he is master of his affections, which words seemed 
to the listener "to come from one who was at liberty, and 
to whom love could do neither good nor evil. But he him- 
self desired not to live in such liberty." The following is 
partly double scored; " I do not hold her to be of such poor 
understanding as that for a man so free as you she should 
be willing to reject a will so devoted as mine." That Keats 
found an exact analogy to his own case in these next lines, 
is evident : "And as men whose hearts have long been free, 
when they devote them at last are more devoted than such 
as have been used to such devotement, so it was with this 
knight." Here, also, it must have been himself of whom he 

1 Owned by Mr. Lucius Wilmerding of New York. 



184 JOHN KEATS 

was thinking when he drew his pencil under the last half of 
this sentence: "He had no other food than his own imagi- 
nations^ which would sooner destroy than support him." Of 
vanity in women, he scores this: "so strong is this passion 
in them that nothing can equal it." 

Have we not, in these marked passages of Pa/merin, as 
clear an account of Keats's mental state during February 
and March as we need to understand why he could not 
write, why he saw so little of his friends, why so many old 
interests had lost their savour? 

The evidence of the change in his daily habits may be 
seen by a few casual remarks in the beginning of his letter 
to George. For instance: 

"I see very little now, and very few persons, being al- 
most tired of men and things. Brown and Dilke are very 
kind and considerate towards me. The Miss R's have been 
stopping next door lately, but are very dull. Miss Brawne 
and I have every now and then a chat and a tiff ... The 
literary world I know nothing about . . . Yesterday I went 
to town for the first time for these three weeks. I met 
people from all parts and of all sorts ... I see very little of 
Reynolds. Hunt, I hear is going on very badly I mean 
in money matters. I shall not be surprised to hear of the 
worst. Haydon too, in consequence of his eyes, is out at 
elbows. I live as prudently as it is possible for me to do. I 
have not seen Haslam lately. I have not seen Richards for 
this half year, Rice for three months, or Charles Cowden 
Clarke for God knows when." 

Keats gives a homely little thumbnail sketch of subur- 
ban gossip in the London stage. He tells the story half- 
humorously, half-ruefully, and since the anecdote serves 
to throw another sidelight on the main picture, I think it 
worth repeating as Keats told it: 

11 Mr. Lewis went a few mornings ago to town with Mrs. 
Brawne. They talked about me, and I heard that Mr. L. 
said a thing that I am not at all contented with. Says he, 



SWIFT CURRENTS 185 

'O, he is quite the little poet/ Now this is abominable. 
You might as well say that Buonaparte is quite the little 
soldier. You see what it is to be under six foot and not a 
lord.' 1 

In spite of the general dislocation of his life at the mo- 
ment, Keats was manfully trying to keep his head to the 
wind. His second instalment of the long letter to George 
contains the following: 

" I have not said in any Letter a word about my own 
affairs in a word I am in no despair about them my 
poem has not at all succeeded ; in the course of a year or so 
I think I shall try the public again in a selfish point of 
view I should suffer my pride and my contempt of public 
opinion to hold me silent but for yours and Fanny's sake 
I will pluck up a spirit and try again. I have no doubt of 
success in a course of years if I persevere but it must be 
patience for the Reviews have enervated and made 
indolent men's minds few think for themselves. These 
Reviews too are getting more and more powerful, especially 
the Quarterly they are like a superstition which the 
more it prostrates the Crowd and the longer it continues 
the more powerful it becomes just in proportion to their 
increasing weakness. I was in hopes that when people saw, 
as they must do now, all the trickery and iniquity of these 
Plagues they would scout them, but no, they are like the 
spectators at the Westminister cock-pit they like the 
battle and do not care who wins or loses." 

Keats's attitude was both plucky and shrewd, and he 
was fortunate in having publishers who backed him up at 
every point. Taylor & Hessey 's loyalty, kept at the boiling 
point by Woodhouse's enthusiasm, is one of the bright 
spots in Keats's life. A long undated letter from Wood- 
house, apparently to his cousin, Miss Frogley, and evi- 
dently written shortly after the episode of Miss Porter and 
Endymion, shows Woodhouse's loyalty and wisdom in such 
a clear light, reveals indeed so much of the fine feeling and 



186 JOHN KEATS 

understanding which certain of Keats's admirers had for 
his work that, notwithstanding its length, I shall give 
some parts .of it here. 

l " MY DEAR MARY. 

I returned from Hounslow late last night ... I brought 
Endymion back, thinking you might like to have it in 
Town whilst with your friends. 

You were so flattering as to say the other day, you 
wished I had been in a company where you were, to defend 
Keats. In all places, and at all times, and before all 
persons, I would express and so far as I am able, support, 
my high opinion of his poetical merits such a genius, I 
verily believe, has not appeared since Shakespeare and 
Milton: and I may assert without fear of contradiction 
from any one competent to Judge, that if his Endymion be 
compared with Shakespeare's earliest work (his Venus and 
Adonis) written about the same age, Keats's poem will be 
found to contain more beauties, more poetry (and that of a 
higher order) less conceit and bad taste and in a word much 
more promise of excellence than are to be found in Shake- 
speare's work. This is a deliberate opinion, nor is it merely 
my own . . . 

But in our common conversation upon his merits, we 
should always bear in mind that his fame may be more 
hurt by indiscriminate praise than by wholesale censure. 
I would at once admit that he has great faults enough 
indeed to sink another writer. But they are more than 
counterbalanced by his beauties: and this is the proper 
mode of appreciating an original genius. His faults will 
wear away his fire will be chastened and then eyes 
will do homage to his brilliancy. But genius is wayward, 
trembling, easily daunted. And shall we not excuse the 
errors, the luxuriancy of youth? Are we to expect that 
poets are to be given to the world, as our first parents 
were, in a state of maturity? Are they to have no season of 
childhood? are they to have no room to try their wings be- 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Library. This original draft is badly 
torn. The version in the text has been corrected from a copy of the original 
letter published by Sir Sidney Colvin in the Times Literary Supplement. 
April 1 6, 1914. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 187 

fore the steadiness and strength of their flight are to be 
finally judged of?... Had I any literary reputation I 
would stake it on the result. You know the side I should 
espouse. As it is, I can only prophesy. And now, while 
Keats is unknown, unheeded, despised of one of our arch- 
critics, neglected by the rest in the teeth of the world, 
and in the face of 'these curious days/ I express my 
conviction, that Keats, during his life (if it please God to 
spare him to the usual age of man, and the critics not to 
drive him from the free air of the Poetic heaven before his 
Wings are fully fledged) will rank on a level with the best 
of the last or of the present generation: and after his death 
will take his place at their head. But, while I think thus, 
I would make persons respect my judgement by the dis- 
crimination of my praise, and by the freedom of my cen- 
sure where his writings are open to it. These are the Ele- 
ments of true criticism. It is easy, like Momus, to find fault 
with the clattering of the slipper worn by the Goddess of 
beauty ; but ' the serious Gods ' found better employment 
in admiration of her unapproachable loveliness. A Poet 
ought to write for Posterity. But a critic should do so, too. 
Those of our times write for the day, or rather the hour. 
Their thoughts and Judgements are fashionable garbs, such 
as they imagine a skew-wise world would like to array it- 
self in at second hand . . . Adieu, my dear Mary . . . 

I am as ever yours, 

RICHARD WOODHOUSE." 

That letter makes one forgive Woodhouse's occasional 
ineptitudes. His heart was always in the right place, and 
if he ever guessed that his meticulous inquiries into the 
meaning and method of Keats's work sometimes brought 
on himself a little bored spoofing, he had the wit and the 
kindness to ignore the fact. A few months later, we find 
Keats asking Dilke if he knows Woodhouse, and explain- 
ing: "He is a Friend of Taylor's at whom Brown has taken 
one of his funny odd dislikes. I'm sure he's wrong, because 
Woodhouse likes my Poetry conclusive." We have al- 
ready seen Woodhouse scheming to enlarge Keats's hori- 



1 88 JOHN KEATS 

zon, to lift him out of his rut. Now suddenly either he or 
Taylor conceived the idea that it would do Keats good to 
stay with Taylor for a few days, and take in a theatre or 
two. Taylor was now living at 93 New Bond Street, and 
Keats was persuaded to pass "two or three days" with 
him during the last week of February, getting back to 
Hampstead on Friday, February twenty-sixth. 

Sir Sidney Colvin believes that the Bright Star sonnet 
was written on this visit. I freely admit that it may have 
been, but I am inclined, for reasons which I shall give pres- 
ently, to attribute it to mid-April. Sir Sidney has recently 
discovered a transcript of the sonnet made by Brown and 
dated "1819." There was a snow flurry on the afternoon 
of Wednesday, February twenty-fourth, and another on 
the following morning, and for this reason since Keats 
speaks of 

14 . . . the new soft fallen mask 
Of snow " 

in the poem Sir Sidney attributes it to this time. It is 
dangerous reasoning to date a poem by its images. A poet 
may be writing under the circumstances which he depicts 
in his poem, or, quite as possibly, the exact opposite may 
be true. Many things have to be taken into consideration 
when a question of date is involved. Being fairly certain 
that mid-April is the more likely moment for the poem to 
have been written, I shall not discuss it until we arrive at 
Keats's doings for April. Then my readers can weigh my 
arguments against Sir Sidney's and draw their own con- 
clusions. 

At the beginning of March, we find Keats writing to 
Haydon: 

"You must be wondering where I am and what I am 
about! I am mostly at Hampstead and about nothing; 
being in a sort of qui bono temper, not exactly on the road 
to an epic poem. Nor must you think I have forgotten you. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 189 

No, I have about every three days been to Abbey's and to 
the Law[y]ers." 

We know for what purpose these visits were made, as 
Haydon's business had not yet been settled. Keats was in 
a distinctly disgusted mood when he wrote this letter, and 
he takes no pains to hide his spleen. "What a set of little 
people we live amongst!" he exclaims, and goes on: 

" Conversation is not a thirst after knowledge, but an 
endeavour at effect. 

In this respect two most opposite men, Wordsworth and 
Hunt, are the same. A friend of mine observed the other 
day that if Lord Bacon were to make any remark in a party 
of the present day, the conversation would stop on the 
sudden. I am convinced of this, and from this I have come 
to this resolution never to write for the sake of writing 
or making a poem, but from running over with any little 
knowledge or experience which many years of reflection 
may perhaps give me; otherwise I will be dumb . . . 

With respect to my livelihood, I will not write for it, 
for I will not run with that most vulgar of all crowds, the 
literary. Such things I ratify by looking upon myself, and 
trying myself by lifting mental weights, as it were. I am 
three and twenty, with little knowledge and middling 
intellect. It is true that in the height of enthusiasm I have 
been cheated into some fine passages; but that is not the 
thing/ 1 

It is not the thing, most assuredly; and Keats owes it to 
his excellent critical faculty to have discovered this im- 
portant artistic truth so early. But if he were not going to 
write for his living, what was he going to do for it, since his 
interviews with Abbey had shown him pretty clearly that 
what money he had left would keep him no long time un- 
less he found some way of augmenting it? Looking his 
prospects fairly in the face, he even considered the advisa- 
bility of going to Edinburgh and studying for a physician's 
certificate, but, he tells George, " I am afraid I should not 



190 JOHN KEATS 

take kindly to it; I am sure I could not take fees and yet 
I should like to do so; it's not worse than writing poems, 
and hanging them up to be fly-blown on the Review sham- 
bles." 

It may seem odd that Keats, who had an apothecary's 
diploma, never appears to have considered practising his 
profession. But there were several reasons which may well 
have made this the last thing that he wanted to do. It 
was not so long since Abbey had wished him to buy a prac- 
tice as surgeon and apothecary in one of the London sub- 
urbs; but two years is two years, and his small capital 
could no longer provide him with means for this. If he 
started in practice, it must be as some one's assistant, and 
he knew himself well enough to realize that that would 
never work. Also, the people with whom he was now living 
were socially rather above an apothecary's standard. 
Keats hated the idea of a shop, and physicians did not have 
shops. Where the money for his tuition in Edinburgh was 
to come from does not seem to have entered into his cal- 
culations. The fact is, he did not want to be a physician, 
he did not want to do anything but write poetry, and in 
the end he let the whole thing slide, optimistically persuad- 
ing himself that things could not be as bad as Abbey said. 
We must not blame him too much for this inertia, nor shall 
we, if we keep firmly in mind two things: one, his health; 
the other, that he had an irresistible bent in one direction, 
a bent so strong that nothing on earth could turn him from 
it. If ever a man was born to write poetry, Keats was that 
man. A little poet, like Reynolds, could abandon literature 
for the law when it became a question of marrying or not; a 
great poet, like Keats, must, by the very necessity of his 
being, function as nature intended, even his love, profound 
and permeating though it were, could not stand against 
the natural impulse of his whole nature. Fanny Brawne 
seems to have understood this, and there is no evidence 
that she ever urged him to take up a practical profession, 



SWIFT CURRENTS 191 

as Miss Drew urged Reynolds. This attitude of Fanny 
Brawne's is one of the noblest things we know about her. 

That Keats was utterly worn out with his sensations at 
this time, it takes no great amount of perspicacity to see. 
We must not forget that the agony of the Autumn was 
bound to take its toll sooner or later. No man could run 
the gamut of so many emotions as Keats had endured dur- 
ing the last six months without having it tell on his ener- 
gies. This has been so little understood that it has been the 
habit of critics and biographers to attribute his inability to 
write from mid-February to mid-March to the baleful in- 
fluence of Fanny Brawne, instead of understanding at once 
that it was simply imperative for him to lie fallow and 
store up what health and vitality he had until his reser- 
voir of creative force was once more full enough to draw 
upon. 

A little extra strain was sufficient to throw him into a 
state of numbness, a sort of weary trance in which, being 
himself, his imagination visited him with dreams, but 
dreams cool, temperate, pricking him to no answering 
emotion. This is the meaning of a passage in the letter to 
George which has been almost universally misconstrued. 
It was written on Friday, the nineteenth of March: 

"This morning I am in a sort of temper, indolent and 
supremely careless I long after a stanza or two of 
Thompson's Castle of Indolence my passions are all 
asleep, from my having slumbered till nearly eleven, and 
weakened the animal fibre all over me, to a delightful 
sensation, about three degrees on this side of faintness. If 
I had teeth of pearl and the breath of lilies I should call it 
languor, but as I am I must call it laziness. In this state of 
effeminacy the fibres of the brain are relaxed in common 
with the rest of the body, and to such a happy degree that 
pleasure has no show of enticement and pain no unbearable 
power. Neither Poetry, nor Ambition, nor Love have any 
alertness of countenance as they pass by me; they seem 
rather like figures on a Greek vase a Man and two 



192 JOHN KEATS 

women whom no one but myself could distinguish in their 
disguisement." 

At the words "as I am," Keats put an asterisk, and at 
the bottom of the page wrote "Especially as I have a black 
eye." And thereby hangs a tale. 

It has hitherto been supposed that this black eye refers 
to the fight with the butcher who was tormenting the 
kitten. 1 But a perfectly fresh light has been thrown upon 
the matter by the discovery of what seems to have been 
intended as a part of this letter. It has come into my 
possession too late to permit of its being incorporated in 
the text, but will be found elsewhere. 2 Through it, we 
learn that the immediate cause of the black eye was a 
cricket ball. Keats seems to have been trying to dispel 
his fatigue by some strenuous and unwonted exercise, and 
the blow from the ball was a serious matter to his over- 
taxed strength. Keats was neither lazy nor sybaritic in 
sleeping until eleven and waking in the listless mood he 
describes. He was utterly played out. We must remember 
that he was not only entirely out of training, he was really 
a sick man. Gloriously and stubbornly as his magnificent 
constitution refused to be downed by the tuberculosis 
which was slowly, but steadily, tightening its hold, never- 
theless he was in no condition to stand a shock of any 
kind. Only a short month before, he had shrunk from 
walking up the hill to call on Mr. Lewis. It was extremely 
foolish to attempt even the mildest and most short-handed 
cricket, and the effort told. Instead of reading into his de- 
scription of this morning's relaxation a sign of sensuous 
indulgence, we should realize that in it we have a clear evi- 
dence of an indomitable will triumphing over a serious 
state of debility and disease. If only Keats 's friends had 
understood, if only the sheer grit with which he kept him- 
self going could have met with a little sensible medical 
help, if only for this is what it amounts to Keats had 
1 See Vol. I, p. 257. See Appendix D. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 193 

lived a century later than he did. But these are dreams. 
Keats lived, and alas! died, a victim of his age, and in 
some sense, too, a victim of his own courage and innate 
vitality. 

Keats's vitality, that spark in him which made him the 
vivid creature he was, deceived his friends as to his actual 
situation until his first haemorrhage forced it unescapably 
upon them. Even after that, the doctors refused to take 
alarm as they should have done. At this period, a few days 
after the episode of the cricket ball, Clarke went out to 
Wentworth Place to see him, on which occasion Keats read 
to him the Eve of St. Agnes. Clarke found him "in fine 
health and spirits," l which only proves how little a casual 
visitor could tell his real condition when, for any reason, 
his mind was actively engaged and happy. Immediately 
after this, Clarke left London to go and live with his father, 
now settled at Ramsgate, and the two friends never met 
again. 

I do not wish to give the impression that Keats's illness 
was a steady progression which his friends could see ad- 
vancing from day to day. Taken by terms of months, un- 
doubtedly an observant onlooker could have noticed a 
steady decline; but there were periods of apparent resili- 
ence when for weeks at a time Keats gave an impression of 
recovered health, and his moods of mental depression were 
made responsible, in his friends' ignorant opinion, for much 
more of his evident low spirits than they could properly 
bear. Difficult as his life was during the remainder of the 
year, it is time that students realized how great a part of 
his despondence was due solely to disease. The wonder is 
that both physically and mentally he held his own so long. 

Meanwhile we see him, not writing indeed as yet, but 
forcing himself back into his usual interests. He quotes at 
great length Hazlitt's Letter to William Gifford for George's 
benefit. He sends a volume of Goldsmith to Fanny, and 

1 See Appendix D. 



194 JOHN KEATS 

writes to her about Tassie's gems. 1 On March thirteenth, 
he tells her, charmingly: 

"I must confess even now a partiality for a handsome 
Globe of gold-fish then I would have it hold 10 pails of 
water and be fed continually fresh through a cool pipe with 
another pipe to let through the floor well ventilated 
they would preserve all their beautiful silver and Crimson. 
Then I would put it before a handsome painted window 
and shade it all round with myrtles and Japonicas. I 
should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva 
and there I'd sit and read all day like the picture of 
somebody reading. The weather now and then begins to 
feel like spring; and therefore I have begun my walks on 
the heath again." 

As these walks seem to have been principally taken with 
Fanny Brawne, the mere mention of them is significant. 

Toward the end of March (Buxton Forman thinks that 
Keats's letter, which is simply dated, "Monday af l ," 
was written on the twenty-ninth) Severn proposed that he 
put into the Royal Academy exhibition, along with his pic- 
ture of Hermia and Helena, a miniature which he had 
painted of Keats. We have no exact knowledge of when 
this miniature was done, since Sharp, 2 in attributing it to 
the Winter of 1819, is clearly in error, as he says that the 
miniature was much liked by Keats's brothers, and by 
1819 one of his brothers was dead, and the other in Amer- 
ica. The most likely time for it to have been painted was, I 
think, the Winter of 1818, although it may have been done 
even earlier. Severn painted all three of the Keats bro- 
thers, and it is not improbable that he did them all about 
the same time, during 1817 and the early part of 1818. 

Keats's reply to Severn's suggestion shows admirable 
good sense and modesty. In the first instance, he warns 
Severn that a miniature is lost in a great exhibition; in the. 

1 See Vol. I, p. 490. 

2 Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 195 

second, he tells Severn plainly that to exhibit it may hurt 
them both, considering their ages and lack of fame, and 
that people would be apt to "laugh at the puff of the one 
and the vanity of the other." However, in the end he left 
Severn a free hand, and Severn, nothing daunted, added 
the miniature to his large picture as his contribution for 
the year. The two paintings were hung at the Royal Acad- 
emy exhibition for 1819; the Hermia and Helena appearing 
in the catalogue as Number 267, and the miniature as 
Number 940. 

In these long journal letters to George, Keats frequently 
breaks off and begins again without making any change of 
date. Was it on the weary Friday that he continued his 
letter with certain very interesting reflections, or does this 
contribution mean a lapse of twenty-four hours or more? 
Arguments in favour of either supposition could easily be 
found, but because of the last sentence of this section of 
the letter, I am inclined to believe that the latter half of it 
was written a day later than the former. There is a slight 
change of mood at this point, the not unpleasant languor 
has given place to a more energetic feeling; once more 
he has begun to think and reason. His new, although 
related, train of thought, is induced by the fact that he 
has just heard from Haslam that his father is dying. 
Keats says: 

"This is the world thus we cannot expect to give 
away many hours to pleasure. Circumstances are like 
Clouds continually gathering and bursting. While we are 
laughing, the seed of some trouble is put into the wide 
arable land of events while we are laughing it sprouts, 
it grows, and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must 
pluck. Even so we have leisure to reason on the mis- 
fortunes of our friends; our own touch us too nearly for 
words. Very few men have ever arrived at a complete dis- 
interestedness of Mind: very few have been influenced by 
a pure desire of the benefit of others, in the greater part 
of the Benefactors of Humanity some meretricious motive 



196 JOHN KEATS 

has sullied their greatness some melodramatic scenery 
has fascinated them. From the manner in which I feel 
Haslam's misfortune I perceive how far I am from any 
humble standard of disinterestedness." 

Keats was a man who dared look into himself, and few 
men have sought to do this so honestly. The realization of 
the imperfection of his sympathy leads him on to the 
thought of the universe of creatures all pursuing their own 
ends, and man among them equally intent upon his. From 
a rather confused train of reasoning, which seems intended 
to prove a thesis at which he never quite arrives, he sud- 
denly breaks off to state the exact opposite of his original 
premise, but this statement is, in itself, a most important 
thing, particularly when we remember his constantly 
growing repugnance to the formulae of religious teaching. 
Here is what he says: 

" I have no doubt that thousands of people never heard 
of have had hearts completely disinterested: I can re- 
member but two Socrates and Jesus Their histories 
evince it. What I heard a little time ago, Taylor observe 
with respect to Socrates, may be said of Jesus That he 
was so great a man that though he transmitted no writing 
of his own to posterity, we have his Mind and his sayings 
and his greatness handed to us by others. It is to be la- 
mented that the history of the latter was written and re- 
vised by Men interested in the pious frauds of Religion. 
Yet through all this I see his splendour." 

Nothing could explain Keats's attitude toward the 
fundamental nobility of spiritual apprehensions better 
than that passage; nor his full realization of his own inabil- 
ity to plumb his glimmering perceptions to an ultimate end 
than this one which immediately follows: 

"Even here, though I myself am pursuing the same 
instinctive course as the veriest human animal you can 
think of, I am, however young, writing at random, strain- 



SWIFT CURRENTS 197 

ing at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness, 
without knowing the bearing of any one assertion, of any 
one opinion." 

There is more here that I should like to quote, but space 
forbids. The passage ends with a bit of self-revelation and 
a profound truth: 

"Do you not think that I strive to know myself ? 
Give me this credit . . . Nothing ever becomes real till it 
is experienced even a Proverb is no proverb to you till 
your Life has illustrated it." 

This does not seem to be the mood of Friday morning. 
No, I take it to be the mood of Saturday. But here, sud- 
denly, Keats copies a poem. Only the week before, he had 
remarked to George: 

" I know not why Poetry and I have been so distant 
lately I must make some advances soon or she will cut 
me entirely." 

Now a poem has come, but under what circumstances? I 
think the slow recovery from the languid mood was re- 
sponsible. For this sonnet distinctly circles round the vi- 
sion of his waking dream, but with an ardour which the 
dream itself lacked. As his languor lessened, his pain re- 
turned, bringing with it a regret which gave to the perpet- 
ual numbness of death a strange desirability. Yet, lest 
George should read a greater distress into the poem than 
he purposes to convey, he prefaces it with an explanation. 
For George, knowing him to be without his erstwhile con- 
fidants, Tom and himself, will assuredly picture him as 
stifling his feelings within himself. He essays to reassure 
him, and the reassurance itself harks back to his previous 
meditations, which in turn seem to have sprung from the 
sonnet: 

" I am ever afraid that your anxiety for me will lead you 



198 JOHN KEATS 

to fear for the violence of my temperament continually 
smothered down: for that reason I did not intend to have 
sent you the following sonnet but look over the two last 
pages and ask yourselves whether I have not that in me 
which will bear the buffets of the world. It will be the best 
comment on my sonnet; it will show that it was written 
with no Agony but that of ignorance; with no thirst of any- 
thing but Knowledge when pushed to the point though the 
first steps to it were through my human passions they 
went away and I wrote with my Mind and perhaps I 
must confess a little bit of my heart." 

Since this sonnet is not particularly well known, and 
is so pertinent to his mental state his effort to fit the 
experience of love into some sort of pattern with his 
continual blind belief in a beauty and truth to which 
everything in his nature clung, together with the weari- 
ness which this constant effort caused him I will quote 
it here. 

"Why did I laugh to-night? No voice will tell : 

No God, no Demon of severe response 
Deigns to reply from heaven or from Hell. 

Then to my human heart I turn at once 
Heart! thou and I are here sad and alone; 

Say, wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain! 
O Darkness! Darkness! ever must I moan 

To question Heaven and Hell and Heart in vain ! 
Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease 

My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads: 
Yet would I on this very midnight cease 

And the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds. 
Verse, Fame and Beauty are intense indeed 
But Death intenser Death is Life's high meed." l 

Having copied the poem, he continues: 

1 There are two slight differences in this letter version of the sonnet to 
that given by Lord Houghton in his 1848 edition. I have kept to the letter 
version in one instance, but adopted Lord Houghton 's version in the other. 
Again, Lord Houghton 's capitalization and punctuation differ from the 
letter holograph, and again I have, with one exception, followed Keats. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 199 

11 1 went to bed and enjoyed uninterrupted sleep. Sane 
I went to bed and sane I arose." 

I think we may believe every word that he says in this 
connection, and exactly as he says it. Although his mind 
had partially recovered from the inertia of the morning, he 
had still too little energy to suffer as was his wont. He 
could recollect the agony of his perpetual questioning, but 
was too tired to be wrung afresh. A subtle distinction of 
sensations, yet one of absolute fact; the respite of fatigue, 
to which he gladly surrendered and so fell asleep. 

From this point, there occurs the gap of a month in his 
correspondence, broken only by the letter about the minia- 
ture to Severn. I will fill it by putting, quite out of order, 
a little sketch, which can by no means be omitted, but which 
I have found it impossible to give in its proper place. It 
belongs to the second week of March. Keats has been 
copying a long passage from Hazlitt's Letter to William 
Gijjord. He breaks off to give this intimate picture of 
himself, an enchanting little vignette which must have 
warmed George's and Georgiana's hearts as it warms ours. 
It is this sort of thing which makes Keats one of the best 
letter writers that ever lived. 

" . . . there is another extract or two one especially 
which I will copy tomorrow for the candles are burnt 
down and I am using the wax taper which has a long 
snuff on it the fire is at its last click I am sitting with 
my back to it with one foot rather askew upon the rug and 
the other with the heel a little elevated from the carpet 
I am writing this on the Maid's tragedy which I have read 
since tea with Great pleasure. Besides this volume of 
Beaumont and Fletcher there are on the table two 
volumes of Chaucer and a new work of Tom Moore's 
called 'Tom Cribb's Memorial to Congress' nothing in 
it. These are trifles but I require nothing so much of you 
but that you will give me a like description of yourselves, 
however it may be when you are writing to me. Could I 



200 JOHN KEATS 

see the same thing done of any great Man long since dead 
it would be a great delight: As to know in what position 
Shakespeare sat when he began 'To be or not to be 1 
such things become interesting from distance of time or 
place. I hope you are both now in that sweet sleep which 
no two beings deserve more than you do I must fancy 
you so and please myself in the fancy of speaking a 
prayer and a blessing over you and your lives God bless 
you I whisper good night in your ears and you will 
dream of me." 

During the month in which Keats wrote so few letters, 
occurred an alteration in the domestic life of the double 
house, Wentworth Place. The Dilkes had one boy, who 
was the apple of his father's eye; indeed, so wrapped up in 
him was he, that his preoccupation rather bored his friends. 
Charley Dilke's education was a matter of the deepest 
concern to his doting father, and now that Charley had 
reached the age when a dame school would no longer serve, 
Dilke was busy canvassing all the pros and cons of various 
institutions. Finally Westminster School was chosen, and 
as Charley was to be a day boy, the Dilkes determined to 
let their half of Wentworth Place and move to West- 
minster. The flitting took place on April third. Although 
the departure of the Dilkes was in many ways a regret to 
Keats, it had its agreeable side, for the tenants who took 
their house were none other than the Brawne family. The 
increased opportunities for meeting, when members of the 
two families could not step into the garden without the 
chance of encountering one another, and Keats, looking out 
of his front parlour window, might at any moment see 
Fanny Brawne going out or coming in, on her way to town, 
or to walk on the Heath, must have added a still farther 
poignance to his feelings. More satisfaction, but also 
more fret, must have been the consequence. On the whole, 
however, I believe that the satisfaction won over the fret, 
for Keats evidently gained in tone and temper during the 



SWIFT CURRENTS 201 

Spring, a sure evidence being that he began writing again, 
more and more, and better and better, until he was fairly 
embarked in that rush of creation which produced La 
Belle Dame Sans Merci and the great Odes. How Sir 
Sidney Colvin and others can declare that Keats could not 
write when he was near Fanny Brawne, with the magnifi- 
cent work of this Spring when he was living, if not in the 
same house, at least under the same roof, with her star- 
ing them in the face, only shows to what lengths of false 
reasoning prejudice may lead. The season had something 
to do with this spate of creation undoubtedly, but the 
excitement of his growing intimacy with Fanny Brawne 
had more. He wrote about her and he wrote away from her 
(in subject, I mean), but the point is that he wrote, and 
this in spite of all those external teasing facts which im- 
proved no whit as time went on. 

His delight in the warm winds, bright sun, and peeping 
flowers of early Spring, is all in this little remark to Fanny 
Keats in a letter which Buxton Forman dates (and I think 
quite rightly) from an incomplete postmark as being 
written on Tuesday, April thirteenth: 

"I hope you have good store of double violets I 
think they are the Princesses of flowers, and in a shower of 
rain, almost as fine as barley sugar drops are to a school- 
boy's tongue." 

Yet even on this very day, the teasing facts were at 
him again. Haydon sent him a querulous note, upbraid- 
ing him for not having lent him the money he had pro- 
mised. It was a nasty thing to do, for Haydon knew quite 
well how hard Keats had tried to carry out his promise 
and the reasons why he had been unable to do so. For 
what appears to be the first time, Haydon's egotistical 
indifference to any one's comfort when his own was in- 
volved seriously hurt Keats. He answers Haydon hon- 
estly and fairly, but he tells him the flat truth, that he 



202 JOHN KEATS 

has tried and failed; and he adds, with no desire to mince 
matters: 

" I have also ever told you the exact particulars as well 
as and as literally as any hopes or fear could translate 
them." 

In the end, he breaks out: 

"It has not been my fault. I am doubly hurt at the 
slightly reproachful tone of your note . . . You seem'd so 
sure of some important help when I last saw you now 
you have maimed me again; I was whole, I had began read- 
ing again when your note came I was engaged in a 
Book. I dread as much as a Plague the idle fever of two 
months more without any fruit." 

Since we know that Why did I laugh to-night? was written 
in the middle of March, it was not strictly true that the 
last two months had been absolutely barren. And in view 
of the number of poems copied at the end of the February- 
May journal letter to America, one cannot help wondering 
whether they were all written after the middle of April, or 
whether some can have been composed earlier, but not 
have been of importance enough in Keats's eyes to be 
reckoned "fruit." This is a point which I shall come back 
to in a moment; after all, there is only one poem whose 
position in the letter I believe to be really suspect, and 
Keats specifically told his sister on this same thirteenth of 
April: " I have written nothing and almost read nothing 
but I must turn over a new leaf." The new leaf was turned 
over almost immediately, as we shall see. 

The letter to George was resumed on Thursday, the 
fifteenth of April, a date which is very important to us; at 
least, if a theory of mine which I have several times referred 
to in regard to the Bright Star sonnet is of any value. Keats 
tells George that he has " been to Mrs. Bentley's this morn- 
ing, and put all the letters to and from you and poor Tom 



SWIFT CURRENTS 203 

and me." This is an odd sentence, and clearly was intended 
to have an ending which Keats forgot to set down. Un- 
doubtedly he meant to say that he had put the letters to- 
gether, or something of the sort. What is significant to us 
is that he had been reading old letters. The principal 
impression left on his mind by this raking up of the past, if 
we can judge by what he says, was the unpleasant hoax 
played by Wells on poor little Tom; but something else 
came out of it, and this something was a verbal recollection 
of a sentence in his first letter from Scotland to Tom which 
stuck in his head and became incorporated in a sonnet that 
he wrote very soon after. If my readers will take the 
trouble to turn back a couple of chapters to the very 
interesting commentary by Professor Rusk on this letter, 
they will see how closely related the sentence in question is 
to the Bright Star sonnet. I have already shown why I do 
not believe that the sonnet, or any idea of it, can have 
been in Keats's mind at the time he wrote this letter, 1 but 
the circumstances when he came to re-read it were entirely 
different. The point of view of the sonnet is one only too 
usual with him at this time doubt, doubt, always doubt 
of Fanny Brawne's constancy, he himself believing one 
day, ceasing to believe the next. Gazing at the star, he 
longs to be as steadfast and unchangeable, not solitary, 
as it is, but with his love, in the certainty of perfect ful- 
filment, and so soothed and at rest continue till death 
ends all. The sentence in the letter 2 which became, with 
only a slight alteration of purpose, incorporated in the 
poem is: 

" refine one's sensual vision into a sort of north star 
which can never cease to be open lidded and steadfast over 
the wonders of the great Power." 

Let us suppose that Keats, meditating on his sonnet, 
finds running in his head this sentence from his recently re- 

1 See Vol. II, p. 25. 2 See Vol. II, p. 22. 



204 JOHN KEATS 

read letter; it exactly fits his purpose and he uses it as 
follows: 

" Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art 

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night 
And watching, with eternal lids apart, 

Like nature's devout, sleepless Eremite." 

So far he has kept very closely to his original sentence, but 
when he comes to "the wonders of the great Power,'* 
instead of merely suggesting them, as in the letter, he 
illustrates and describes, as befits a poetical pattern. These 
wonders must, however, in a small compass seem to convey 
everything, so he paraphrases them, in time-honoured 
fashion, by the sea and the mountains. That we should 
expect; but the special recollection to him here is Scotland, 
hence he adds the "moors." The snow, I feel quite certain, 
owes its existence to nothing at all but the necessity of find- 
ing a rhyme for "task"; the word "mask" being perfectly 
appropriate to the obliterating effect of snow. It may be 
objected that "moors" is also merely a rhyme word, but 
this I doubt, principally because it does not properly rhyme 
at all. Also "shores" is not nearly so difficult a word to 
find a rhyme to as is "task." Then again, the "mountains 
and the moors" line could have been altered in a num- 
ber of ways without injuring the poem, while the idea in 

"The morning waters at their priestlike task" 

was too good to lose. 1 

Sir Sidney Colvin, in laying so great a stress on the 
verisimilitude of the snow flurries 2 in February, forgets 
that this same snow would hide the stars. To be sure, if we 
allow any weight to the realism of weather conditions, 
from February twenty-fourth to February twenty-sixth, 
when Keats was at Taylor's, there was only the thinnest 

1 For Keats's final revisions on this sonnet, see Vol. II, p. 480. 
1 See Vol. II, p. 188. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 205 

and earliest-setting of new moons, which, were it not for 
the obscuring snow, would help his reasoning; but my 
theory is equally happy in this respect, for, from April 
fifteenth until the twenty-fourth, the moon was a waning 
one, and this left the sky, at any hour when Keats would 
be likely to see it, under the full influence of the stars. 

I do not say that all this absolutely proves that the 
Bright Star sonnet was written in mid-April, I simply say 
that the evidence is very strong in favour of it. Another 
argument is the quality of the sonnet itself, which seems 
to belong to the flowering period just then beginning, and 
to be closely related in tenor to a love poem which im- 
mediately followed it, As Hermes once took to his feathers 
light y whereas, if it were written at the end of February, it 
was a lone example, and its existence does not seem to tally 
with Keats's distinct statement to George on the thirteenth 
of March: "I know not why Poetry and I have been so 
distant lately." Keats would scarcely have made such a 
remark if he had done so good a thing as the Bright Star 
sonnet within a couple of weeks. A certain stiffness in 
handling, the result of a long rest from writing, is observ- 
able in Why did I laugh to-night ?> and this stiffness seems to 
give that poem the position of pioneer after his pause, a 
pioneer which for some time stood alone. By the time the 
Bright Star was written, the tension had snapped, his 
creative force was ready to flow, and did flow abundantly 
from then on for a long time. It is true that Keats did not 
copy this sonnet in the letter to George, but that is equally 
true if it were written in February. The answer is not far to 
seek; the sonnet would have told George too much, the 
reason for it could not have been obscured under a sub- 
sidiary meaning as in the cases &{Why did I laugh to-night? 
and As Hermes once took to his feathers light. 

The exact day on which the Bright Star sonnet was 
written, I cannot pretend to determine. But there is a 
pregnant remark in his letter of April fifteenth. Shortly 



206 JOHN KEATS 

after telling George of his going to Mrs. Bentley's, he says: 
"I am still at a stand in versifying I cannot do it yet 
with any pleasure." This looks as though he had been 
making abortive attempts at poetry; and what more 
natural, in that case, than for a new attempt to turn 
suddenly and unexpectedly into a success. The probabil- 
ity of this speculation is enhanced by his seeking a start 
from the sentence in his old letter. I am much inclined, 
because of this, to hazard a conjecture that the sonnet 
was written on either April fifteenth, sixteenth, or seven- 
teenth. 

I have spoken of Wells's hoax played on Tom, and this 
seems the moment to explain it. Wells wrote a series of 
letters to Tom purporting to be from a woman who signed 
herself " Amena." This person gave out that she had fallen 
in love with Tom, and the poor little fellow appears to have 
been completely taken in. I suppose the deception must 
have been discovered before Tom died or Keats would not 
have spoken of it as a "diabolical scheme" and "a cruel 
deception on a sanguine Temperament," and declared that 
he hated it "to a sickness." Keats was cut to the quick, 
naturally, and announced his intention of injuring Wells in 
every way he could. That he ever did injure him, or make 
any attempt in that direction, it is folly to think; he spoke 
of the matter to George in hot blood, with his heart full of 
pain and anger. But he broke with Wells at once, and does 
not seem to have had anything more to do with him. Wells 
must have realized the justice of his action, for years after, 
in 1845, he wrote that when Keats "passed into the Land 
of Spirits" he took "one half of my heart with him." 1 

A little before the period which we have now reached, a 
new poem by Wordsworth was announced for publication. 
None of Keats's set had any sympathy with Wordsworth's 
predilection for poems of the Betty Foy y Harry Gill type. 
The name of this forthcoming work, Peter Bell, seemed to 

1 From an article by Buxton Forman in the Bibliophile Year Book, 1913. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 207 

herald another of the genre, and the opportunity to offer a 
slight chastisement to the poet for so degrading his genius 
as these young men considered it was too good to be 
missed. Reynolds had a pretty wit of the kind which lends 
itself to parody, and he promptly dashed off an amusing 
skit in Wordsworth's most irritatingly "simple" vein. 
With what seems to us a very questionable license, 
Reynolds entitled his lampoon Peter Bell. A Lyrical Ballad. 
To print a parody of a poem before it had appeared, from 
guesswork, and to call that parody by the very name of the 
forthcoming original, is certainly a breach of good taste if 
not worse. But this does not seem to have troubled either 
the author, or Taylor and Hessey, the publishers. Out the 
poem came, to the huge delight of all the Reynolds circle, 
except perhaps Keats, who wrote a review of it for Hunt to 
print in the Examiner, because Reynolds had asked him to 
get Hunt to notice it and this seemed the best way to do so. 
Keats says very little to George about Reynolds's jeu 
d' esprit, although he does remark by the way that "It 
would be just as well to trounce Lord Byron in the same 
manner." Keats's review, which came out in the Examiner 
for Sunday, April twenty-fifth, is short, and, as he says 
himself, "a little politic," for he is careful to assure the 
public that the author (the parody was anonymous) " had 
felt the finer parts of Mr. WORDSWORTH'S poetry," and 
here follows so good a criticism, so admirably expressed, 
that it alone makes the review worth while. Speaking of 
this aspect of the parodist, Keats says: 

"The more he may love the sad embroidery of the Excur- 
sion, the more will he hate the coarse samplers of Betty 
Foy and Alice Fell." 1 

The rest of the review is taken up with praising Reynolds's 
deftness, and the whole ends with this tactful sentence: 

" If we are one part amused with this, we are three parts 
1 See Vol. I, p. 319. 



208 JOHN KEATS 

sorry that any one who has any appearance of appreciating 
WORDSWORTH, should show so much temper at this 
really provoking name of Peter Bell." 

Keats describes his effort to George by saying: "I keep 
clear of all parties I say something for and against both 
parties," and concludes with the consoling opinion, "I and 
my conscience are in luck to day which is an excellent 
thing." The little paper was a very neat feat of critical 
trapeze work, a skilful balancing between opposite im- 
pressions, which Hunt eked out by long quotations from 
the parody and its Preface without farther comment. It 
needed none. 

I have already spoken of the difficulty of dating these 
journal letters. It seems to have been on this same fifteenth 
of April that Keats, who was clearly getting in cue for 
writing again, suddenly broke into verse. Apropos of 
nothing,he begins: " Shall I treat you to a little extempore," 
and promptly does so. This extempore is sheer nonsense, 
dashed down at the instance of a sudden fit of rhyming. It 
is not even a joke, it is just rhyming and no more, although 
the fairy story which he spins out of it is amusing enough 
to make us wonder how the tale would end. For it does not 
end, as it does not begin. Just for fun, Keats divides it in 
the middle by writing "End of Canto XII," and beginning 
again with "Canto the xm." Twenty-two lines farther 
on, he stops as abruptly as he had started, for, says he: 

" Brown is gone to bed and I am tired of rhyming 
there is a north wind blowing playing young gooseberry 
with the trees I don't care so it helps even with a side 
wind a Letter to me. M 

One of Keats's anxieties was that no letter had come 
from the travellers since they started on the last lap of their 
journey to Birkbeck's settlement. This silence lay all Winter 
as a growing misery in the back of his mind. Poor fellow, 
how many worries were heaped on him at once, and how 



SWIFT CURRENTS 209 

bravely he sought to face them! The rhyming fit was a 
good sign, he was getting hold of himself. 

Although Keats was tired of rhyming, he was not yet 
tired of writing, and before going to bed he recounted a 
little adventure which had happened to him the Sunday 
before, April eleventh. It had no consequences, which is 
perhaps the most important thing about it. I give it 
exactly as Keats jotted it down: 

"Last Sunday I took a walk towards Highgate and in 
the lane 1 that winds by the side of Lord Mansfield's park I 
met Mr. Green 2 our demonstrator at Guy's in conversation 
with Coleridge I joined them, after enquiring by a look 
whether it would be agreeable I walked with him at his 
alderman-after-dinner pace for near two miles I suppose. 
In those two Miles he broached a thousand things let 
me see if I can give you a list Nightingales, Poetry 
on Poetical Sensation Metaphysics Different genera 
and species of Dreams Nightmare a dream accom- 
panied with a sense of touch single and double touch 
a dream related First and second consciousness the 
difference explained between will and Volition so many 
metaphysicians from a want of smoking the second 
consciousness Monsters the Kraken Mermaids 
Southey believes in them Southey's belief too much 
diluted a Ghost story Good morning I heard his 
voice as he came towards me I heard it as he moved 
away I heard it all the interval if it may be called so. 
He was civil enough to ask me to call on him at Highgate." 

There is no malice in this account, but Keats was evi- 
dently not in key to fall a victim to the spell of Coleridge's 
eloquence. He listened to the continuous rumble of words 
without enthusiasm, at least so his lack of comment leads 
us to suppose. All his contemporaries assure us that 

1 Mill field Lane, where Keats gave his Poems to Hunt in 1817. 

1 Joseph Henry Green, afterwards F.R.S. and Professor of Anatomy to 
the Royal Academy, had been Junior Demonstrator at St. Thomas's Hospi- 
tal in 1816. He was a disciple of Coleridge's and an interpreter of his philos- 
ophy. 



210 JOHN KEATS 

Coleridge was an inspired monologist; but youth, even 
highly intelligent youth, endures monologue but ill. Keats 
endured it just two miles, and seems to have felt no hunger 
for more, since he did not avail himself of Coleridge's 
invitation to call on him at Highgate. Keats was not of the 
sort which sits at the feet of older men. His youthful 
idealization of Hunt had taught him a lesson, and his 
admiration of Wordsworth had been greatly tempered by 
personal contact. He could admire profoundly, but there 
must always be a give and take in his relations with any 
man. He did admire Coleridge, but the man who had 
written Christabel and The Ancient Mariner only distantly 
resembled the portly person who shuffled along the High- 
gate lanes emitting an unquenchable stream of talk to 
which one must listen in silence as it never stopped long 
enough for any one else to get a word in edgewise. Keats, 
pulled, harried, whirled hither and thither in a hundred 
different eddies of feeling and perception, had no leisure 
to give to what did not concern him, and this sample of 
Coleridge's amazing conversation served to prove that 
nothing concerned him here. Coleridge's poetry said much 
that concerned him very nearly; Coleridge himself, 
nothing. He did not repeat the experience. 

Coleridge's impression of the meeting is recorded in his 
Table Talk. To him, who talked, the two miles were but a 
moment of time. His recollection of the event is interesting 
for many reasons, although, having been taken down 
thirteen years later, it is not likely to be very accurate. In 
the Table Talk, Mr. Green's name is left blank; I have 
added it to Coleridge's account, which reads: 

"A loose, slack, not well-dressed youth met Mr. Green 
and myself in a lane near Highgate. Green knew him and 
spoke. It was Keats. He was introduced to me, and stayed 
a minute or so. After he had left us a little way, he came 
back and said : ' Let me carry away the memory, Coleridge, 
of having pressed your hand!' 'There is death in that 



SWIFT CURRENTS 211 

hand/ I said, when Keats was gone; yet this was, I believe, 
before the consumption showed itself distinctly. 11 

It is impossible not to see that Coleridge's memory 
played him false in several particulars here, but the hand 
is important. Keats and his doctors were deceived as to 
the state of his health, yet to a highly sentient man like 
Coleridge the mere touch of his hand spelt disease. Mr. 
Green explained Coleridge's feeling by saying that to him 
Keats's hand felt "cold and clammy." l A recently pub- 
lished version of the same occurrence, written down after a 
conversation with Coleridge by Mr. John Frere in 1829, has 
much the same story to tell. In part, it says: 

2 C. "Poor Keats, I saw him once. Mr. Green, whom 
you have heard me mention, and I were walking out in 
these parts, and we were overtaken by a young man of very 
striking countenance whom Mr. Green recognized and 
shook hands with, mentioning my name; I wish Mr. Green 
had introduced me for I did not know who it was. He 
passed on, but in a few moments sprung back and said, 
'Mr. Coleridge, allow me the honour of shaking your 
hand/ I was struck by the energy of his manner, and gave 
him my hand. He passed on, and we stood still looking 
after him, when Mr. Green said, 'Do you know who that 
is? That is Keats, the poet. 1 'Heavens! 1 said I, ' when I 
shook him by the hand there was death ! ' That was about 
two years before he died. 

F. But what was it? 

C. I cannot describe it. There was a heat and a damp- 
ness in the hand. To say that his death was caused by the 
Review is absurd, but at the same time it is impossible 
adequately to conceive the effect which it must have had 
on his mind. It is very well for those who have a place in 
the world and are independent to talk of these things, 
they can bear such a blow, so can those who have a strong 
religious principle; but all men are not born Philosophers, 

1 Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Note. 
* A Talk with Coleridge, edited by Miss E. M. Green. Cornhitt Maga- 
zine, April, 1917. 



212 JOHN KEATS 

and all men have not those advantages of birth and edu- 
cation. Poor Keats had not, and it is impossible I say to 
conceive the effect which such a Review must have had 
upon him, knowing as he did that he had his way to make 
in the world by his own exertions, and conscious of the 
genius within him." 

It is quite obvious that this version of the meeting is 
the more correct of the two. Nobody else describes Keats 
as loose and slack, while everyone agrees that he had a 
striking countenance and great energy of manner. Evi- 
dently Coleridge had forgotten a good deal of his original 
impression when, three years later, he dictated the passage 
in his Table Talk. What is most remarkable, however, is 
that Keats had been dead only eight years when the con- 
versation with Mr. Frere took place; yet, although to the 
world at large he was practically unknown, to the literary 
world he was "Keats, the poet," and Coleridge speaks of 
his "genius" as an indisputable fact. Coleridge's sane and 
perspicacious remarks on the effect of the Quarterly review 
upon him are well nigh extraordinary, considering that 
the legend of his having been killed by the review was rife 
at the time, having been given peculiar currency by 
Shelley's Adonais and Byron's lines on Keats in Don Juani 

"Strange that the mind, that very fiery particle, 
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article/ 1 

It will be remembered that Hunt also speaks of Keats's 
hand, 1 but to what period his remarks have reference he 
does not state. 

Keats returned to his letter the next day with the first 
mention of Fanny Brawne which he had allowed to creep 
into it. Mrs. Brawne had appeared several times, but 
Fanny had been carefully excluded; even now, her appear- 
ance was the merest peep. " Brown this morning is writing 
some Spenserian stanzas against Mrs., Miss Brawne and 

1 See Vol. I, p. 258. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 213 

me," he says, "so I shall amuse myself with him a little: in 
the manner of Spenser " Nothing in that to raise a 
suspicion as to the true state of affairs in George's or 
Georgiana's mind, nothing at all to enlighten them, unless 
they were sagacious enough to understand the implications 
of certain poems which followed. The stanzas on Brown 
are passable fooling, no more; their value for us is that they 
show the itch to write verse persisting. But a little farther 
on Keats has something vital to relate. Ostrich-like, he 
thinks the true content of his communication is hidden. 
But is it? Not to us, at least. And the tale he has to tell 
refers to a little time back; only the sonnet, which was its 
outcome, seems to belong to a very recent moment. The 
question for us is, did this sonnet precede the Bright Star? 
I confess myself unable to answer, since it is impossible to 
say just when this part of the letter was written; there are 
no more dates in it until the very end, when we have, first, 
the thirtieth of April, and then the third of May. What 
Keats says to his brother and sister-in-law is this: 

"The fifth canto of Dante pleases me more and more 
it is that one in which he meets with Paulo and Francesca. 
I had passed many days in rather a low state of mind, and 
in the midst of them I dreamt of being in that region of 
Hell. The dream was one of the most delightful enjoy- 
ments I ever had in my life. I floated about the whirling 
atmosphere as it is described with a beautiful figure, to 
whose lips mine were joined, as it seemed for an age and 
in the midst of all this cold and darkness I was warm 
even flowery tree-tops sprung up, and we rested on them, 
sometimes with the lightness of a cloud, till the wind blew 
us away again. I tried a sonnet upon it there are four- 
teen lines but nothing of what I felt in it O that I could 
dream it every night." 

It needs no knowledge of the theory of dreams and their 
interpretation as set forth by Freud to grasp the meaning 
of this. Those who believe in the Freudian hypothesis, and 



2i 4 JOHN KEATS 

find pleasure in examining literature according to the 
tenets of psycho-analysis, have a perfect study to their 
hand in this sonnet and Keats 's introduction to it. For me, 
I prefer to let the obvious speak for itself. Vicarious though 
a dream joy may be, it is none the less a joy. If morning 
brought only the half satisfaction of an unreal experience, 
the strange, superlatively poignant sensations of that 
experience did in themselves hold a modicum of truth. 
The experience was false to one kind of fact, but eminently 
true to another kind, the imaginative. Yet it must be 
admitted that the truth of imaginative experience, when 
the passional side of life is in question, is deeply involved in 
danger the danger of losing hold upon the actual to find 
solace in the purely visional. That Keats was too robust a 
man to do this, we see at every turn. This is the sole evi- 
dence we have of the languor of sensual dreaming either in 
his letters or his poems. He suffered intensely and con- 
tinuously, but the very force and clarity of his nature for- 
bade him from indulging in the ready opiate of unreal 
adventure. Considering the intensity of his feelings, and 
the extraordinary fervour and vividness of his imaginative 
conceptions, it is nothing short of amazing to see how sane 
and whole his life was, how single to itself and to the ideal 
he had set up. I do not mean that Keats reasoned all this 
out, as he might have done had he lived to-day, but that 
the unconscious sanity of the man brought about this 
result. 

Keats was quite right in saying that he had succeeded in 
getting nothing of his dream into his sonnet. In spite of 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's exceedingly high opinion of it, I 
cannot count it as even approaching his best work. Even 
Rossetti was forced to admit the flaw of the false rhyme of 
"slept" and " bereft," and the fact that, as Rossetti points 
out, 1 "this anomaly is all the more curious when we con- 
sider the sort of echo it gives of a line in 'Endymion,' 

1 From a letter from Rossetti to Buxton Forman. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 215 

'So sad, so melancholy, so bereft' " l 

does not seem an adequate excuse for what is certainly a 
weakness in construction. There are other weaknesses in 
the sonnet; for instance, the equivocal rhythm of the first 
line, 2 which can be made to take the iambic beat only by 
misplacing the natural accent of the words. These are 
slight things, of course, and could easily be overlooked if 
the sonnet as a whole were of finer stuff. Unfortunately it 
has faults which keep it from mounting at any point into 
the sparkling air of perfect expression. In the first place, 
Keats could not really get in touch with his theme until 
the ninth line. The whole beginning up to this point is 
introduction, and dull and discursive introduction at that. 
"The dragon world with all its hundred eyes" is a cliche m 
thought if not expressly in form. One stale figure, "snow 
clad" is scarcely saved by applying it to skies; but this 
Keats did see and alter, "snow cold skies" was infinitely 
better and almost redeems its line. The last line, being an 
alexandrine, is worth noticing; there are but two other in- 
stances of Keats having ended a sonnet with an alexan- 
drine, 3 his having done so here is in accord with the desire 
for change in the sonnet structure which was growing upon 
him. How far this desire led him, we shall see before long. 

As Hermes once took to his feathers light seems to have 
been written directly into the first volume of the Gary's 
Dante he had taken with him on his Scotch tour. There 
were several false starts, for the sonnet did not get going 
easily. The first is on the inside of the recto cover; for the 
second, he turned the book round and began on the inside 
of the verso cover; the third, and last, is written on the last 
end-paper, and here the sonnet is copied in full. 

That Keats told Fanny Brawne of his dream, and that 
both he and she attached a special significance to this 
sonnet, and, by inference, to the passage which had 

1 Endymion Bk. II. Line 685. 2 See Vol. I, p. 1 16. ' To a Friend who 
sent me some Roses, and On sitting down to read " King Lear ' once again. 2 



216 JOHN KEATS 

inspired it, is evident from two things. One, that Keats 
gave the book, with his sonnet in it, to Fanny Brawne; the 
other, that on the flyleaf of Volume I Fanny Brawne 
copied the Bright Star sonnet. This proves nothing as to the 
chronological priority of either poem, but does seem to re- 
late them as to time, and gives a strong impression of their 
belonging to the same period psychologically in Fanny 
Brawne's mind. Personally, I think it probable that 
Fanny Brawne had already been given the Bright Star 
sonnet some days previously to receiving the Hermes, and 
feeling for both sonnets in much the same way, copied the 
first into her new, and very dear, gift, so that she might al- 
ways have them both together and both with the passage 
from Dante. 

That Fanny Brawne was anything but cold, we can 
plainly see by this little action. And we can see something 
else, that the lovers were enjoying a time of happiness and 
confidence. We can read between the lines to any extent 
here; the sonnets and their position in the Dante one in 
his handwriting, one in hers give us every permission. 

Keats's almost buoyant happiness just at this time 
appears in a letter written on April seventeenth to his 
sister Fanny. His spirits were sky-high when he wrote 
this delightful bit of fooling: 

"O there is nothing like fine weather, and health, and 
Books, and a fine country, and a contented Mind, and 
diligent habit of reading and thinking, and an amulet 
against the ennui and, please heaven, a little claret wine 
cool out of a cellar a mile deep with a few or a good 
many ratafia cakes a rocky basin to bathe in, a pad nag 
to go you ten miles or so; two or three sensible people to 
chat with; two or three spiteful folkes to spar with; two or 
three odd fishes to laugh at and two or three mumskul[l]s to 
argue with instead of using dumb bells on a rainy day ' ' 

And here follows the rhyme, Two or three Posies. In his list 
of delights, Keats does not mention the joy he was then 



SWIFT CURRENTS 217 

experiencing, but in his "contented Mind" we see very 
clearly a shadow picture of Fanny Brawne. 

Did Keats's circle suspect any engagement as yet? No, I 
think not. Severn has told that, early in the Spring of 1 8 19, 
Keats took him to call on the Brawnes. But he seems not 
to have had the faintest idea then, nor indeed until his 
journey to Italy with Keats, that there was anything 
particular between Keats and the young daughter of the 
house; and he has expressly stated that he had no know- 
ledge of there being a definite engagement until after 
Keats's death. Brown, who had Fanny Brawne and Keats 
under his nose all day, week in and week out, can scarcely 
have been in complete ignorance of facts so patent for any 
denizen of the double house to see, but how soon Keats 
confided in him we do not know. Mr. and Mrs. Dilke 
probably suspected a great deal, although their removal to 
Westminster may have made them rather slower in guessing 
the exact truth than would have been the case had they re- 
mained at Hampstead. For any general knowledge of the 
state in which affairs really were, I think we cannot look 
much before the Winter of 1820, and even then only where 
the most intimate of the group were concerned. Haslam, 
for instance, heard nothing until after Keats had left 
England. After all, the fact that the two families lived 
under the same roof and shared the same garden gave the 
lovers every opportunity to cheat the prying eyes of in- 
terested friends, and we may be very sure that Keats took 
great care that visitors to Brown's half of the premises 
should go away no wiser than they came. 

Brown was a sociable spirit, and so was Keats until illness 
made him otherwise. They liked to have their friends come 
out from town as often as they would. We learn of the 
Dilkes coming out to dinner and of Hunt doing the same; of 
a "claret feast" somewhere, at which were present Dilke, 
Reynolds, Brown, and various others, "We all got a little 
tipsy but pleasantly so"; of a visit with Hunt to Sir 



2i 8 JOHN KEATS 

John Leicester's Gallery, and another with Severn to the 
British Museum; of various calls on Mrs. Wylie; of 
occasional jaunts to the theatres; even of a rout at Sawrey's 
"which was made pleasant by Reynolds's being there." 
Once Keats's sociability proved a little too much for him. 
Here is his account of a fatiguing day: 

"Yesterday I could not write a line I was so fatigued for 
the day before I went to town in the morning called on 
your Mother, and returned in time for a few friends we had 
to dinner. These were Taylor, Woodhouse, Reynolds 
we began cards at about 9 o'Clock, and the night coming on 
and continuing dark and rainy they could not think of 
returning to town. So we played at Cards till very day- 
light and yesterday I was not worth a sixpence." 

What day this "yesterday" was, is problematical, but as 
this is the part of the letter in which Keats quotes his re- 
view of Peter Bel/, and that review came out on Sunday, 
the twenty-fifth, we may be fairly certain that he was writ- 
ing during the week beginning on Monday, the nineteenth. 
There appears to be a break after the quotation, for Keats 
goes on: "The other night I went to the Play 1 with Rice, 
Reynolds and Martin . . . that was on Saturday I stopt 
at Taylor's on Sunday with Woodhouse and passed a 
quiet sort of pleasant day." By tallying up the various 
apparent fresh beginnings in the letter since the date of 
April fifteenth, it seems evident that the Sunday spent at 
Taylor's was the eighteenth. Among other doings of the 
ensuing week, Keats went to the Panorama in Leicester 
Square, which had two views on exhibition just then, one 
of the North Coast of Spitzbergen, the other of St. Peters- 
burg, each requiring an entrance fee of one shilling. 2 
Keats seems to have economized by going to only one of 
these exhibits, or at least only one made an impression 
upon him, but that made a great deal. It is with the ut- 

1 According to Keats, this was "a new dull and half damn'd opera 
call'd 'the Heart of Mid Lothian.' " 

2 Leigh's New Picture of London. 1819. 



Never Acted. 



THEATRE ROYAL, COVENT-GARDBN 

This prefent SATURDAY, April 17, t8i$, 

1 



. WlUUaaad a New MafealDnoM, (la S afe) calk* 

The Heart 
MID-LOTHIAN 

The Sttncryk entirely ncw-.od the t^&g^^J^^J^^ "^ ^ 

S^ry Craig* art Artktt/t Scat, vttk I>wwwV C ,*%8f *" '^^TlV^oS^ 

MtfSk*fsCair**d HotgnodHwfa Jto*t a Gttr<U* jonmrly bcknghg to it. 



egree, vitk ike To/toot*. sotosckck, gsc<p*Ws Welk ,Hf*rf?oty- 
rood Ho*J<-~ud a Gotte Ckamter, Jbrmerij in Hoiyrood //ew/<r. l(b by Grieve. 
"Tke O*M of DuoAMUre} Ho*Je. Wham ore. 

oj Do. a*J Hut ,f Madge Wiltfr*. Hodgin.. 

nd MVMOK. bieh are fMcami fram the mod approved Scotch All*. 
i by Mr. BISHOP. 



Lord Oakdale by Mr. EGERTON. 
Wilmot f his Secretary) by Mi. CONNOR, 

Laird of Dumbiedikes. Mr. LISTON. 

George Robertfon. Mr. MAC READY, 

David Deans. Mr. TERRY, 

Ratchfl, Mr EMERY, 
Sharpitlaw by Mr. BLANCHARD, 
Saddletree by Mr. SIMMONS. 
Rioters, 

Meff. Comer, Treby, Norrb, Crumpton* George, Gnkhwi, H1jr, Lee, MoougiM. G. P/ne, 

I. S. & C. Ten, Wutt. William* 
Mcfi. Collet, Goodwin, Gouriet. O-ini, Hutb, I ems P *', V!y 

Mrs Balchriftie by Mrs DAVENPORT, 
Effie Deans by Mifs STEPHENS, 

Jeanie Deans; Mils BKUNTON, 
Madge Wildfire by Mrs. C. KEMBLE. 

Jl4/ ./ /',* ^.*f/ to Ac AW i. A 



A fi hicb. the F.irre of 



_ . 

The Deaf Lover. 

Capt. McatUma [the LVaf I^>vpr] by Mr. W. FARREN, 

Old Wronpvanl, Mr. HI.ANC1IAK1), Yc.onz Wrunguanl, Mr. CONNOR, 

Catitren by Mr COMKR, Stcruhold, Mr. ATKINS. Uroom, Mr SIMMONS 

Hubert Mr. Trcby, William Mr Kmp, John MrJeHtMii^, Jor MrCrumptou 

Cook by "Mr L<tuw, C^entUmtn, Mrff. Ilealv anil Heath, 
Sojihia by Mm T. HILL, Brtley Uloflmn by Mia. GIBAS. 

Ladies,' Mt-fdanit* Shaw and Svxton, ChHinbcruiaid, Mifs Grr en. 
i3- AOr AN ORDER can be admitted. 



M rTYA T ES~vTiT honoured "wuh th<- molt cnthulialhck applmtle in the character of 

pff bolli ' 



FA LSTA Fi-\ and will Aiortly appear in n-w ( ^ 

1 henew Grand Speaacle of ifORTUKA TL'S $ 

having been received throughout with the moft unqtmlified fucculs, 
will be^ rcpeatwi every Kvening next week. 
OiTacvount oflhe fijat demand for Places, 

TheTragedy of Jj? VA DNE will be repeated 

Op Vcdnefday and Friday. 
Due notice will be pvcoaT the nut rpfnUtion of The MARRUOE of FIGARO. 



PLAY BILL 
KEATS WAS PRESENT ON THIS EVENING 

From tli? (H'H/hitil in the jmss< ssion of Louis A. //olnnin, Vi.s 



SWIFT CURRENTS 



219 



most enthusiasm that he describes the picture of Spitz- 
bergen to George, and as his attitude toward it is a proof 
of his avidness for all kinds of experience, real or vicarious, 
his intelligent interest in every kind of fact a quality 
which so ably balanced his preoccupation with matters of 
fancy I give it here: 

"I have been very much pleased with the Panorama of 
the Ship at the north Pole with the icebergs, the 
Mountains, the Bears, the Wolves the seals, the 
Penguins and a large whale floating back above water 
it is impossible to describe the place." 

One of the most refreshing things about Keats is his 
perfect lack of pose. He was too great an artist to despise 
what was not "artistic." Everything was grist to his mill 
which gave him a new idea, something which his mind 
could work upon and assimilate. He never allowed theory 
to interfere with adventure, as is the habit with little 
souls aspiring after the aesthetic. Formulae annoyed him, 
he was a free spirit. 

Immediately after the description of the Panorama, 
there is a new date: "Wednesday Evening," a Wednesday 
which we must suppose to have been April twenty-eighth. 
This date is very important because, following at once 
upon it, Keats copies La Belle Dame Sans Merci. As the 
poem has several corrections in it, and an abortive begin- 
ning to the second line of the eleventh stanza, we may 
conclude that it had just been composed. This would seem 
to determine the day on which it was written as being 
April twenty-eighth, 1819. 

Leigh Hunt is responsible 1 for our knowledge of what is 
probably the fact, that Keats got the idea of his poem from 
the title of a translation, formerly imputed to Chaucer, of 
a poem by Alain Chartier, the court poet of Charles the 

1 In an introduction to the poem when it was printed in the Indicator 
on May 10, 1820; reprinted in Buxton Forman's Library Edition of Keats's 
works. 



220 JOHN KEATS 

Second of France. This title none other indeed than La 
Belle Dame Sans Mercy had already intrigued him, for 
he took it for the name of the Provencal ditty sung by 
Porphyro to Madeline in the Eve of St. Agnes. That Keats, 
in his second use of it, gave the last word its French spell- 
ing, is indicative of his sense of taste and the extent to 
which it had fascinated him. But there was more in this 
old English translation to set Keats on his way, for a note 
prefixed to the poem explained that M. Alain "framed this 
dialogue between a gentleman and a gentlewoman, who 
finding no mercy at her hand dieth for sorrow." The point 
for us to notice is that it was the title and this note that 
gave Keats his Belle Dame and not the poem itself, which, 
as Sir Sidney Colvin says, is "a cold allegoric dialogue." 
The hunt for sources, ever dear to the heart of scholars, is 
rather more important than usual here, for by it I believe 
we learn the true genesis of the poem, and considerable 
of the workings of Keats's mind at just this time. We 
will, then, go into the matter a little and see what we may 
find. 

After commenting, much as Sir Sidney has done, on 
Chartier's poem, Professor de Selincourt decides that "in 
idea and atmosphere Keats's poem is closer to Spenser's 
description of Phaedria." This description is to be found at 
the beginning of the Sixth Canto of the Second Book of the 
Faerie Queene. In Spenser, a knight, wandering beside a 
river, encounters a lady in a small boat. The lady is sing- 
ing gaily to herself, but on the knight's calling to her she 
draws in to the shore and takes him into the boat, with the 
ostensible intention of ferrying him across the river. Once 
on board, however, the lady, who is "fresh and fayre," 
essays to charm the knight in various ways. She tells him 
"merry tales" which she drowns with "laughter vaine" 
and turns "all her pleasaunce to a scoffing game." Then 
she falls to decking her head with garlands and putting 
"fresh flowrets" about her neck. The knight is greatly 



SWIFT CURRENTS 221 

delighted at all this and asks her name, which the lady 
tells him is Phaedria and adds that she is a servant to 
Acrasia, whom they both know to be an enchantress. After 
a while, the boat touches at an island. The pair land, and 
the lady guides the knight to a "shady dale," where she 
takes his head upon her lap and lulls him to sleep with 
a "love lay." As soon as he is fast asleep, she pours 
"liquors strong" upon his eyes to keep him so, gets into her 
boat and departs. From this point, Spenser's tale has no 
resemblance to Keats's. 

The first thing to be noted for a comparative analysis is 
that the whole feeling of Spenser's episode is totally unlike 
that of Keats. Let us tabulate the likenesses and unlike- 
nesses between the two poems. For the parallels: A knight 
meets a beautiful lady who makes love to him. She wears a 
garland on her head, and leads him to a retired place where 
she sings to him and where he falls asleep. She has know- 
ledge of herbs. She is connected with an enchantress. The 
knight being asleep, she deserts him. For the differences: 
Spenser's lady comes in a boat. She is full of mirth. She 
takes the knight into her boat instead of the knight plac- 
ing her on his "pacing steed." She scoffs and wantons, 
whereas Keats's lady never ceases weeping and lament- 
ing. In Keats's poem, the knight takes an active part in 
the love-making; in Spenser's, he is perfectly passive. In 
Spenser, the lady puts garlands on her own head; in Keats, 
the knight makes a garland for her. There is no dream in 
Spenser's poem, and the whole denouement of Keats's tale 
is quite other than Spenser's, whose knight awakes in 
shame to think that he has lost so much time in "slouth- 
full sleepe," and with no thought of the lady endeavours to 
leave the island. 

Certain actions, then, Keats seems to have taken from 
Spenser, but his atmosphere he must certainly have found 
elsewhere, or at least whatever of it he did not invent him- 
self, which was far the greater part. I think no one has ever 



222 JOHN KEATS 

thought of seeking for the colouring of Keats's poem in 
Palmerin of England, and yet there is so much of it in that 
book that it must be taken into careful consideration. We 
know that Keats was reading Palmerin at this time, and in 
Palmerin forlorn knights abound. The type of fairy lore 
made use of in La Belle Dame is ever present in Palmerin. 
It is true, there is no event in that book which bears the 
faintest resemblance to what we may term the plot of La 
Belle Dame y but there is nearly everything else. For 
instance, Keats's description of the melancholy "Knight- 
at-arms," "so haggard and so woebegone," is tallied in 
many places. To give only a few: In the first volume, we 
read that Palmerin in grief, thinking that his lady, 
Polinarda, does not care for him, that he has offended her, 
will take no food, "he remained, leaning upon one hand 
with his eyes fixed upon the fountain below him . . . With 
this he paused awhile, weakness depriving him both of 
strength and breath to express the words which sorrow and 
love suggested." It will be remembered that Keats's knight 
loiters by a lake, which in this passage is parallelled by the 
fountain. A little later on in the same volume is: "And in 
these thoughts, sad one hour, and sadder another, he 
travelled on." The words italicized here, Keats scored, 
which shows the impression they made upon him. In the 
second volume, we find: "And if at any time he was at 
leisure he passed it in melancholy contemplation under the 
trees, recounting his sorrows." Again, we have this particu- 
larly striking resemblance: "lying with his face over that 
clear and quiet water, he began to call his lady Polinarda 
to mind, and the length of time it was since he had seen her 
. . . the passion therefore became so strong upon him, that 
his strong heart failed, and such was the power of these 
fantastic thoughts over him, that with the semblance of 
one dead he lay at the foot of the willow trees." 

We must not forget that Keats's knight met a lady "in 
the meads," who is described as "a faery's child" and 



SWIFT CURRENTS 223 

whose hair we are especially told was "long" and her eyes 
"wild." We are not directly told that she was in trouble of 
some sort, but that is clearly inferred. Palmerin gives us 
no exact reproduction of this, but some very close indi- 
cations, as follows: At the very beginning of the book, a 
lady appears who is not only "fair by nature, but her 
attire made her seem fair," and "she was the daughter of 
the lady enchantress." Farther on in the same volume is 
another episode: "So it befel, that one day at evening, 
about half a league from the city of London, he espied a 
damsel on a white palfrey come riding toward him, her hair 
spread over her shoulders, and her garments seeming to be 
greatly misused; all the way as she rode, she used many 
shrieks, and grievous lamentations, filling the air with her 
cries." This is a traitorous young woman, a servant, or 
maid, to the sorceress Eutropa. In the fourth volume is 
an even more exact comparison: "while he of the Tyger 
was washing his hands and face, his helmet being placed 
upon a stone beside him [again there is water, be it ob- 
served], there rushed out a damsel from the thickest of the 
wood, with her hair dishevelled, her face streaming with 
tears, her colour gone, and her apparel all torn by the 
trees." A still better one is to be found in the second 
volume: "he espied a damsel come riding towards him, her 
hair loose, and she using such speed as the fear she was in 
occasioned." Keats's lady is not described as weeping un- 
til the grot is reached, but the fact is implied throughout. 
Keats's knight sets her on his " pacing steed " and leads her, 
as is shown by her bending to him when she sings. In 
Palmerin, ladies are constantly being picked up and placed 
on palfreys: "then placing her on her palfrey he rode with 
her and her company along the valley," "placing Arlanza 
on a palfrey which was brought her, he returned to his 
company, talking to her as they went." They are even led 
at times: "Primaleon, to pay Don Duardos something of 
the debt of their old friendship, would lead the queen 



224 JOHN KEATS 

of Scots, his daughter-in-law's palfrey by the bridle, till she 
came to the palace gate." 

There are references to garlands for the head in Pal- 
merin as well as in the Faerie Queene, while Keats's line 
"And made sweet moan" is often duplicated in the old 
romance: "woeful moan of the ladies," "which may urge 
you to remember my moan," "who thus framed his moan." 
Keats's lady uses her grief as a means to get the knight into 
her toils, a practice quite common in Palmerin, where it is 
recounted: "The damsels whom Eutropa sent out, each 
using subtlety with tears and lying stories which craved 
help for some just cause"; also "preparing herself to a 
deceitful course, and intermeddling her talk with tears." 

I have already said that there is no such tale in Pal- 
merin as Keats wove for his poem, but there are certain 
parallel, if unrelated, parts of it. One of these tells of a 
damsel "of rare and excellent beauty" who has a wounded 
knight carried into her castle, which Knight, having re- 
covered, would go his way, but " grieving to see him so bent 
upon departing, she strove with loving words to detain 
him . . . oftentimes confessing to him in plain words her 
love." We have seen that there is no "grot" in the 
Faerie }ueene\ in Palmerin there is a very large and fine 
one "like a gateway, hewn in the rock," and although the 
knight's reason for being there bears no sort of likeness to 
the reason which brought Keats's knight to his, there is 
some resemblance between the two, for Keats's cave is an 
"elfin grot," and the one in Palmerin "had for long time 
been the abode of famous enchanters." Keats's knight 
wakes on the " cold hill's side"; in Palmerin, Florian enters 
the cavern, "Then quickening his pace, it was not long be- 
fore he found himself on the other side of the Sierra, in a 
great square field." 

There is nothing resembling the dream in Palmerin , and 
yet I think that Keats obtained much of the picture of it 
from that work, for Florian, once more in the cave, " look- 



SWIFT CURRENTS 225 

ing round about the court, he saw that it was full of statues 
of famous men," and Keats's "pale Kings and Princes too" 
seems taken very directly from the description of the kings 
and princes embalmed in the mortuary temple on the 
Perilous Isle, which is one of the closing scenes ofPalmerin. 

I have dwelt on all this at so great length, because I 
wish it to prepare a statement which I am aware will be 
somewhat startling. It is, indeed, nothing more, nor less, 
than that I believe, after carefully examining all the data, 
La Belle Dame Sans Merci not to be an autobiographical 
poem, and not connected, except in the most general way, 
with Keats himself and Fanny Brawne. Far from the poem 
bearing any reference to some tiff or misunderstanding 
between the lovers, I think it proves exactly the opposite 
that the rapprochement of ten days before, evinced in 
the Bright Star and As Hermes once took to his feathers light 
sonnets, had suffered no change. Keats was in perfect cue 
for writing, as he would assuredly not have been had any 
sudden quarrel upset his equilibrium. And he was more 
than that, he was so abundantly free to apply himself to 
poetry that he could even experiment in new methods and 
modes. For La Belle Dame is essentially an experimental 
poem. 

I have already pointed out 1 how earnestly Keats sought 
to discover his proper direction, and this was never more 
true than during the Winter and Spring of 1819. He had 
laboured intermittently at the epic form, as embodied in 
Hyperion, for months, but without, in his own opinion, 
attaining any great measure of success. He had begun it 
twice, as I shall explain in a later chapter, but neither 
attempt satisfied him. The second, that which we call 
Hyperion, seems to have been carried as far as we know it 
when, in April, he lent his manuscript to Woodhouse. Why 
none of Keats's biographers have made use of Woodhouse's 
remarks about this manuscript in a note in his copy of 

1 See Vol. I, p. 602. 



226 JOHN KEATS 

Endymion, 1 I cannot conceive, for they are of the utmost 
importance, largely on account of the time when they were 
written. The note is carefully dated "April. 1819." What 
Woodhouse says is this: "K. lent me the fragment here 
alluded to for perusal. It contains 2 books & % (about 
900 lines in all). He said he was dissatisfied with what he 
had done of it; and should not complete it. This is much to 
be regretted." So we see that Keats's disgust with the 
poem long anticipated his statements on the subject to 
Reynolds in the following September. Already, by April, 
he had laid it aside, more or less definitely in his own 
opinion. Here, then, was a direction which appeared to 
have failed him. But the urge to find his way continued. 
The Eve of Sf. Agnes, however, he could not help seeing bore 
unmistakable signs of success; it was not finished to his 
satisfaction yet, but he was not in a mood for revision, only 
for creation. His old love, the age of chivalry, had stood 
him in good stead in St. Agnes, could he not attack it from 
a new angle and find a path in so doing ? The idea was an 
inspiriting one, and he forthwith let his subconscious mind 
play with it a little. The result was a welding of an old 
ballad form with a type of atmosphere so novel as to be 
nothing short of astounding. Working from Chartier's 
intriguing title, with a hint from one of Spenser's stories 
and the absolutely enchanting properties which were 
scattered for him all through the four volumes of Palmerin, 
Keats suddenly and unexpectedly produced one of the 
finest poems in all literature, and a poem so utterly fresh 
that it opened to English poetry an entirely unexplored 
field. To us, familiars of the region through Keats's 
disciples, the pre-Raphaelites, La Belle Dame remains the 
chief of its genre, although the peculiar quality of its atmo- 
sphere is, necessarily, no longer so striking. It seems fair to 
assume that Keats never quite realized what marvelous 
pioneer work he had done in this one short poem, since it 

1 Owned by W. van R. Whitall, Esq., of New York. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 227 

remains the sole specimen of its kind which he wrote. But 
we must not forget how brief a time was left him to write, 
and how crowded with work that time was. Also, there is 
another thing: Keats's inveterate habit of keeping a number 
of poems going at once. When a mood was on him, he 
wrote as long as it lasted; if his mood changed, he dropped 
the poem on which he was engaged, then and there, and 
turned to something else. When the former mood returned, 
if it did, he went back to his abandoned poem. Frequently 
this occurred several times in the course of one poem. 
This is the reason for the various fragments found in his 
portfolios after his death. In these cases, he had died be- 
fore the special moods required had happened to return. 

La Belle Dame Sans Merci was the product of a very 
special mood indeed, and it did not happen to re-visit him 
during the remainder of his writing life, but it seems very 
probable that in this poem we have a clear indication of a 
direction which he would certainly have followed had time 
been vouchsafed him. 

The "kisses four" with which Keats's knight closed the 
elfin damsel's "wild wild eyes" have been the source of 
much comment, and the first commentator was Keats 
himself. Immediately after copying the poem in the letter 
to George, he wrote: 

"Why four kisses you will say why four because I 
wish to restrain the headlong impetuosity of my Muse 
she would have fain said 'score' without hurting the 
rhyme but we must temper the Imagination as the 
Critics say with Judgement. I was obliged to choose an 
even number that both eyes might have fair play, and to 
speak truly I think two a piece quite sufficient. Suppose I 
had said seven there would have been three and a half a 
pi ece a ver y awkward affair and well got out of on my 
side 11 

This is most excellent fooling, but it covered a quandary. 
In specifying the exact number of kisses, Keats was simply 



228 JOHN KEATS 

following the old ballad tradition, as he knew quite well; 
but the question was how well known would this tradition 
be to the majority of readers. To anyone unfamiliar with 
the quaint exactness of enumeration so beloved of the 
ancient balladists, was not the line open to ridicule? And 
any suspicion of ridicule was bound to shiver the atmo- 
sphere of the poem to atoms. So Keats, with his critical 
instinct jealously awake for the safety of his strange and 
beautiful atmosphere, proceeded to step outside his poem 
and ridicule it himself as an experiment. His was kindly 
ridicule, but what would that of the critics be? In the end, 
he distrusted his audience so thoroughly that he altered the 
line, and very much for the worse. When, a year later, the 
poem was printed in the Indicatory Keats was too worn out 
and discouraged to do battle for his original conception, 
and let Hunt persuade him to alterations which he probably 
would not have countenanced before his illness. In every 
case where Keats changed the poem, he committed a 
blunder, something very unusual with him, whose correc- 
tions were, almost without exception, improvements. We 
do not certainly know that Hunt was the instigator of the 
changes, Woodhouse may have had a hand in them for, in 
his Commonplace Book where the original is copied with 
only the slightest of differences from the letter version, 
there is a pencil note written, Buxton Forman thinks, 
by Taylor which reads: "Vide Album for alterations." 
Some of Keats's friends must have had the good sense to 
prefer the poem as Keats first wrote it, however, for Lord 
Houghton in his 1848 edition printed it as Woodhouse set 
it down. There is no sort of doubt that the best version is 
the one sent in the letter to George, and happily Professor 
de S61incourt gives it letter perfect in his editions. It is 
a thousand pities that the Indicator version was ever 
resurrected; it ruins a perfect work of art. 

Immediately after La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Keats 
copied another poem into his interminable letter. This 



SWIFT CURRENTS 229 

was the tripping little fragment known as the Song of the 
Four Fairies , although Keats entitled it Chorus of Fairies. 
It is really a dialogue between Salamander, the spirit of 
fire; Zephyr, the spirit of air; Dusketha, the spirit of earth; 
and Breama, the spirit of water. The poem has some agree- 
able conceits in it, but only one noteworthy passage, that in 
which Zephyr begs Breama to 

1 "Come with me, oer tops of trees, 
To my fragrant Pallaces, 
Where they ever floating are 
Beneath the cherish of a Star 
Caird vesper." 

At the end, Keats suddenly departs from his trochaic 
heptasyllables to break into a series of irregularly timed 
lines based upon a highly variable anapestic-iambic pattern 
whose four stresses alone link it to his original form. The 
audacious liberties of rhythm in which Keats indulges here 
are another proof of his longing for innovation, and the 
five lines in which he plays these pranks are rhythmically 
quite charming. The poem ends sharply on a short line as 
though the poet had become tired of it, as probably he 
had. Rossetti pronounced this poem as "unworthy of 
Keats at this period," and in spite of the rhythmical 
subtleties of the last lines, which no poet of Rossetti's 
period could be expected to relish, I imagine few people 
will feel called upon to disagree with him. 

Nothing is more curious to watch, throughout these long 
letters, than the complete changes of interest and feeling 
which Keats underwent from day to day. We get only the 
barest conception of his personality if we attempt to isolate 
these gusts of thought from one another and study them in 
a series of unbroken divisions. During this last week of 
April, Keats was enormously occupied with poetry, but not 

1 Copied from a holograph. Author's Collection. This holograph 
differs slightly from both the version in the letter and that printed by Lord 
Houghton. 



230 JOHN KEATS 

so much so as to exclude other intellectual interests. 
Directly after breaking off with the unfinished line of the 
Four Fairies^ Keats starts abruptly on a new train of 
thought. So radical is this change that it seems as if this 
must be a new beginning which we should attribute to 
Thursday, April twenty-ninth, but I do not think so, I 
think the date changed earlier, and that the Four Fairies 
began the Thursday section. For what does his sharp 
stopping of the Fairies mean but that he has something 
else which he very much wants to say. Of course, I may 
be wrong in this; it does not matter very much either way. 
At any rate, his new preoccupation proved a very sug- 
gestive one. He begins: 

"I have been reading lately two very different books, 
Robertson's America and Voltaire's Stecle de Louis XIV. 
It is like walking arm in arm between Pizarro and the 
great-little monarch." 

The contemplation of the state of the populace in the two 
countries leads him on to a series of reflections that, in sum, 
reveal the type of philosophy to which he was coming to 
adhere more and more. This whole passage is as near to a 
statement of a creed as Keats ever formulated. The passage 
is so long that it cannot be quoted in full, but in paraphras- 
ing parts of it I have been careful to leave out nothing 
essential. 

His argument starts from the following premise and query: 

"The whole appears to resolve into this that Man is 
originally a poor forked creature subject to the same mis- 
chances as the beasts of the forest, destined to hardships 
and disquietude of some kind or other. If he improves by 
degrees his bodily accommodations and comforts at 
each stage, at each ascent there are waiting for him a fresh 
set of annoyances he is mortal and there is still a heaven 
with its Stars above his head. The most interesting ques- 
tion that can come before us is, How far by the persevering 
endeavors of a seldom appearing Socrates Mankind may 
be made happy " 



SWIFT CURRENTS 231 

Supposing that, could it be effected, perfect happiness 
were ever attained on earth, Keats thinks that the thought 
of death could not be borne, and this thought, increasing in 
intensity with the years, would gather such an accumula- 
tion of misery into the last days of every man as to leave 
the sum total much what it is now, but deprive sorrow of 
its educational value. From this, he deduces a complete 
ethical system in this wise: 

"The common cognomen of this world among the mis- 
guided and superstitious is 'a vale of tears' from which we 
are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of 
God and taken to Heaven. What a little circumscribed 
straightened notion ! Call the world if you please ' The vale 
of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the 
world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human 
nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take 
for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has 
struck me concerning it) I say 'Soul-making' Soul as 
distinguished from an Intelligence. There may be intelli- 
gences or sparks of the divinity in millions but they are 
not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is 
personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception 
they know and they see and they are pure, in short they 
are God." 

Postulating thus, he proceeds to propound his query and 
answer it as follows: 

"How then are Souls to be made? How then are these 
sparks which are God to have identity given them so as 
ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one's individual 
existence? How but by the medium of a world like this? 
This point I sincerely wish to consider because I think it a 
grander system of salvation than the Christian religion 
or rather it is a system of Spirit creation." 

He finds this system to be "effected by three grand 
materials acting the one upon the other for a series of 
years." These materials are " the Intelligence the 



232 JOHN KEATS 

human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) 
and the World or Elemental space" Putting this, as he 
says, "in the most homely form possible," he goes on: 

" I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose 
of teaching little children to read I will call the human 
heart the horn Book read in that School and I will call 
the Child able to read, the Soul made from that School and its 
horn book. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains 
and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a 
Soul? . . . Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, It is the 
Mind's Bible, it is the Mind's experience, it is the text 
from which the Mind or Intelligence sucks its identity. As 
various as the Lives of Men are so various become their 
Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, 
Identical Souls of the sparks of his own essence/' 

There is nothing particularly new in all this, be it ad- 
mitted. The curious thing about it is that Keats should 
have worked it out for himself, living as he did among men 
who were quite contented with the orthodox teaching of 
the Church of England. Hunt and Shelley were the ex- 
ceptions to this rule in the circle of Keats's friends, and 
neither man's religious opinions weighed a feather with 
him. So far as we know, Keats was not in the habit of 
reading philosophy, or delving into the mysteries of 
ancient religions, and there is no evidence to show that he 
had ever read Swedenborg, D'Holbach, Herder, or any of 
the thinkers who flooded the eighteenth century with 
novel theological doctrines, constructive or destructive. 
The point of view at which he had arrived seems to have 
been spun out of his own entrails, if I may use such an 
expression. It came from more than his heart, more than 
his mind, it sprang from the very mid-most of his being. It 
was the fine thread drawn from his ever strengthening ego. 

His conclusions, when he reached them, were for his 
surroundings, place, and moment nothing short of sub- 
versive. They are: 



SWIFT CURRENTS 233 

"This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of 
Salvation which does not offend our reason and humanity 
I am convinced that many difficulties which Christians 
labour under would vanish before it." 

And after suggesting that Christianity may be derived 
from older religions, he dares a most heterodox theory, to 
wit: 

"Why may they not have made this simple thing even 
more simple for common apprehension by introducing 
Mediators and Personages in the same manner as in the 
heathen mythology abstractions are personified? . . . For 
as one part of the human species must have their carved 
Jupiter; so another part must have the palpable and 
named Mediator and Saviour, their Christ, their Oromanes 
and their Vishnu." 

Keats had evidently read more along the lines of 
comparative religions than we are aware of, but in his case 
a hint was enough to start him exploring the spheres. It 
was not only in poetry that he was an experimenter; in 
thought also he was not content with barriers. Where his 
probing insight would have carried him had he lived, it is 
impossible to say. Already he was far beyond the bounds 
which confined his friends. 

The next date in the letter is "Friday April 30" 
and Keats at once begins: 

" Brown has been here rummaging up some of my old 
sins that is to say sonnets. I do not think you remember 
them so I will copy them out as well as two or three lately 
written. I have just written one on Fame which Brown 
is transcribing and he has his book and mine. I must 
employ myself perhaps in a sonnet on the same subject " 

Here follows one of the two sonnets on Fame, this one 
evidently improvised at the very moment of writing. It is 
not a good sonnet, and Keats got into a little trouble with 
the sestet. Writing in the Shakespearian mode, his sestet 



234 JOHN KEATS 

should have consisted of a quatrain and a couplet; but here 
Keats, having written the first three lines in what was 
evidently intended to be quatrain form, suddenly brings in 
a new rhyme for his fourth line, rhymes his fifth with it, 
and forces his sixth to hark back to the second for its echo. 
This, I am sure, is no experimental effort, but a pure case 
of being stuck and getting out as best he can. The reason 
why I am convinced of this is that the second line originally 
ended with the word "taste," but when the fourth line 
with which it should rhyme was reached, the general sound 
of "taste" tricked him into the false rhyme "space." 
Perceiving his error almost immediately, and unable to find 
an appropriate word for his "grateful bees" which would 
rhyme with "space," realizing also that his "Undisturbed 
Lake has crystal space" was too good a line to lose, he gave 
up the quatrain form and put "feed" at the end of the 
second line. Another good line gave him the needed rhyme 
for "space," and forgetting for a moment the order of his 
rhymes, he finished with another nice line: "And spoil our 
pleasures in his selfish fire." Soon, however, seeing that he 
had left "feed" no companion, he scratched out his sixth 
line entirely and substituted the extremely weak "Spoilt 
his salvation by a fierce miscreed." 

The second sonnet on Fame 1 is better technically, yet 
it is a singularly dull poem, and the semi-cynical, semi- 
jocose, tone of it is not alluring. The first line is an al- 
most exact "steal" from Dryden, where in the Epilogue to 
the first part of the Conquest of Grenada is a passage be- 
ginning: 

"Fame, like a little Mistress of the Town. M 2 
This passage is, in idea, an almost perfect duplicate to 

1 These sonnets are printed in inverse order in all editions of Keats's 
poems. I deal with them here as they appear in the letter. 

1 This parallel was pointed out in a recent letter to the Times Literary 
Supplement by E. H. W. Meyerstein. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 235 

Keats's sonnet. The fact that, two months later, Keats was 
writing Lamia a poem which shows clearly the influ- 
ence of Dryden's versification makes Keats's obvious 
theft here not a little important, for it seems to prove that 
he was reading Dryden with some intentness during the 
Spring, although he says nothing about it. Keats's in- 
debtedness to Dryden in this sonnet seems to have escaped 
Sir Sidney Colvin's notice, but, because of it, the passage 
he quotes from Brown's Britannia 5 Pastorals seems 
superfluous. 

There is a third sonnet in this group of which Keats says 
nothing, and we may reasonably assume it to be one of the 
exhumed "sins." It is entitled To Sleep, and would have 
been an excellent sonnet had it ever been revised, a good 
sonnet and something of an experiment, for while the 
octave consists of two quatrains in the regular Shake- 
spearian manner, the sestet rhymes (does not, as a matter 
of fact, but was certainly meant to) in rather an odd way. 
The first line of it echoes the second and fourth lines of the 
octave, the second line follows the fifth and seventh of the 
octave, the last lines form a quatrain. As a matter of fact, 
in this quatrain Keats rhymed "lord" and "wards," which 
was clearly an oversight. In the transcript of the sonnet 
made by Woodhouse, " hoards " is written instead of " lord," 
but Lord Hough ton printed the word as "lords." Readers 
may take their pick of the two versions; which Keats really 
meant, we cannot know. 

How much before this thirtieth of April Keats wrote 
To S/eep y it is impossible to tell, but by the evidence of 
style and experimentation I feel sure it was quite a recent 
performance. It was, we know, written in 1819, for Wood- 
house so dates it. That this strangely patterned sestet was 
intentional, there can be no manner of doubt. Keats was 
not in love with the couplet ending of the Shakespearian 
sonnet. He had sought to relieve its monotony in As 
Hermes once took to his feathers light by making the last line 



236 JOHN KEATS 

an alexandrine; here he tried to break it up entirely. This 
desire to introduce something new and different into a 
traditional form places the sonnet definitely as belonging 
to this Spring. That hard-working, but very unpoetical, 
person, Buxton Forman, was much mystified by 

4 'Then save me or the passed day will shine 
Upon my pillow breeding many woes/ 1 

He wished "tressed" substituted for "passed" on the 
strength of a most inferior and fragmentary version in the 
copy of Paradise Lost given to Mrs. Dilke, and published 
in the Athenaum in 1872. This version is so unutterably 
bad, besides being unfinished, that I am very sure it repre- 
sents an early, abandoned attempt. The difficult lines are 
really as plain as day. Any one who has suffered from in- 
somnia will attest their absolute truth, for who, lying awake 
at night, has not found the events of the day before full of 
thorns to prick his sensitive midnight consciousness withal. 
To Sleep is not an end to the poetry in the letter; not at 
all. Keats succeeds it with a preface to another poem, the 
Ode to Psyche. This, the first of his completed odes, 1 he 
introduces to George and Georgiana in these words: 

"The following Poem the last I have written is the 
first and the only one with which I have taken even 
moderate pains. I have for the most part dash'd off my 
lines in a hurry. This I have done leisurely I think it 
reads the more richly for it, and will I hope encourage me 
to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy 
spirit." 

At last Keats had struck a direction which he could 
follow, happy in the conviction that he had found at least 
one medium perfectly fitted to his genius. He had already 
made a shot at it, in the fragment of the Ode to Maia 
written the year before at Teignmouth, but that poem he 
had been forced to leave in all its glorious incompleteness, 

1 The juvenile Ode to Apollo and the Ode to Fanny do not properly 
belong in this category. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 237 

the mood which produced it had never returned. Nor had 
it returned now, but something akin to it in attitude had 
come, and this something he had brought to a finish. 

I am quite in accord with Sir Sidney Colvin in believing 
the Psyche to be the first of Keats's great odes in point of 
time. Does not he himself tell us so plainly when he declares 
this the only poem lately written with which he has taken 
pains? Could he have said as much had he already written 
the Grecian Urn or the Ode on Melancholy , and is it at all 
likely that if he had written these poems he would not have 
copied them into this letter to George? The Ode on Indo- 
lence clearly pronounces itself as composed later, as we 
shall see, and we know the Nightingale to have been written 
in May. There are other reasons for assigning to the 
Psyche the initial place among the odes; first and foremost, 
its distinct resemblance to the manner of / Stood Tip-toe 
in the first stanza, then the various harkings-back to some 
of his old preoccupations the mountain pine, 1 for 
instance, while the "dark clustered trees" that "Fledged 
the wild-ridged mountains steep by steep," 2 clearly points 
to his re-reading of his letters from Scotland. Palmerin 
crops up here, too, in the line: 

"Nor virgin choir to make delicious moan," 

and again 

"O let me be thy choir and make a moan." 

Professor de Selincourt has remarked that a phrase from 
each of the three important odes of this period, the Grecian 
Urn, the Ode on Melancholy, and the Nightingale, is re- 
peated, or nearly so, in the Psyche, and begs us to notice 
how, by this means, Keats "knits them all together." I 
cannot subscribe to Professor de S61incourt's deduction; 
rather I believe that Keats used his Psyche as a quarry, and 

1 See Vol. I, p. 148. 2 See Vol. II, p. 31. 



238 JOHN KEATS 

took the lines in question from it to put them into succeed- 
ing poems which he knew to be far better. 

There is much of the younger Keats in this ode. " Tender 
eye-dawn of aurorean love," "fond believing lyre," "soft 
delight," these are the sort of expressions we find in his 
work of 1816, but which he had for the most part out- 
grown at this time. He is not betrayed into anything of 
the sort in his other odes. In fine, there is much beauty in 
the Psyche, and not a little weakness. Keats says that he 
took pains with the poem, but the pains were evidently not 
as rigorously employed as they might have been. There 
are two unrhymed lines in the published version, a slight 
blemish, but still a blemish where the pattern is a fully 
rhymed one. It is only fair to say, however, that in one of 
these cases the rhyme was originally there, but disap- 
peared in revision. In all probability, Keats did not revise 
the poem until he was preparing the Lamia volume for pub- 
lication, and at that time he was weary with illness and 
not his keenly perceptive self, although dropping rhymes 
by accident during the work of correction was all too com- 
mon with him, as witness Endymion. It is instructive to 
note that those corrections done after his illness in 1820 
are not so certainly wise as were his earlier ones. We have 
seen how he marred La Belle Dame Sans Merci\ in this ode, 
he changed the delightful expression "freckle-pink" for 
flowers to the commonplace "silver-white." A final reason 
for giving to the Psyche the position of pioneer is that Keats 
does not seem to have quite settled into his stride when he 
wrote it, to have quite made up his mind what the particu- 
lar form of this type of poem was to be. Later he crystallized 
his odes into a definite structure which he varied only in 
detail. This structure consisted principally of stanzas with 
an equal number of lines, the number being ten in all the 
odes except To Autumn, to which he permitted eleven. 

After the Ode to Psyche in the letter, Keats wrote: 

11 Here endethe y* Ode to Psyche." 



SWIFT CURRENTS 239 

and at once, as a sort of fresh heading, he put in Latin: 
"Incipit altera Sonneta." 

I have spoken many times of the passion for experiment 
which seems to have dominated Keats all this Spring, and 
following this, his longing to alter the form of the sestets 
of his sonnets. Now, suddenly, he flares out in the un- 
accustomed r&le of iconoclast. The conventional sonnet, 
which he wrote superlatively well in both forms, no longer 
contented him; yet he wanted some sort of a sonnet, and 
forthwith proceeded to invent an entirely new one. The 
why of his doing so he explained to George: 

" I have been endeavouring to discover a better Sonnet 
Stanza than we have. The legitimate 1 does not suit the 
language over well from the pouncing rhymes the other 
appears too elegiac and the couplet at the end of it has 
seldom a pleasing effect I do not pretend to have suc- 
ceeded it will explain itself." 

The sonnet follows: 

2 "If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd, 
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet 
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness, 
Let us find out, if we must be constraint, 
Sandals more interwoven and complete 
To fit the naked foot of Poesy: 
Let us inspect the Lyre, and weigh the stress 
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd 
By ear industrious, and attention meet; 
Misers of sound and syllable, no less 
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be 
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown; 
So, if we may not let the Muse be free, 
She will be bound with garlands of her own." 

1 Petrarchan. 

2 In the letter, the sonnet does not go beyond the fourth line. It is 
quoted here from a version written in Sir Charles Dilke's copy of Endymion. 
Buxton Forman. 



2 4 o JOHN KEATS 

This is obviously merely a study for a rhyme-scheme, and 
this scheme is so interwoven and complicated that I will 
supplement the poem by giving it. It runs: A.B.C.A.B.D. 
C.A.B.C.D.E.D.E. The fourteen lines are preserved, but 
everything else is new, even the break at the end of the 
octave which relieved the monotony of the Petrarchan 
sonnet and gave a tilt to the subject that started the sestet 
with a new zest, is gone; and the somewhat same effect 
got by the quatrains and final couplet of the Shakespearian 
form is to seek. This makes Keats's sonnet a bit monoto- 
nous. He has effectively done away with the "pouncing 
rhymes," but at the expense of losing the chime of rhyme- 
return altogether. It is gleefully pointed out by the sticklers 
for convention that Keats never wrote another sonnet 
after this recipe. Perhaps he never would have done so; 
but it should also be said that he wrote only two sonnets 
after this, and both of them were highly personal and 
emotional pieces in which he took the first form that came 
to his hand, being in no mood for anything save to pour 
out the feelings in his heart. If he stopped experimenting 
in sonnet form, he did not stop in his other chief form, the 
ode. Each of his odes was an experiment within a pattern 
which he had largely found for himself. When we realize 
that a bare nine months comprised the whole rest of his 
writing life, we shall not be so sure as most critics profess 
themselves to be as to what he would, or would not, have 
done had he lived. The subject of this experimental sonnet 
is of itself sufficient to prove how much he desired to escape 
from the strait-jacket of tradition, to prune all semblance 
of "dead leaves" from his own fresh luxuriance. Yet 
we must not fail to observe that it is his ear principally 
which is unsatisfied, it is a new music that he craves. 
In the matter of poetic "music," Keats has had few 
equals. 

Keats closed his long letter to George with this little 
paragraph: 



SWIFT CURRENTS 241 

"This is the third of May, and everything is in delightful 
forwardness; the violets are not withered before the peeping 
of the first rose." 

It is quite evident that, from the middle of April until 
the middle of May, Keats was really happy. These were 
the last weeks of his life when he can be said to have been 
so. Cruel as fate had been to him hitherto, its extreme of 
cruelty was to come. At the moment, he was enjoying a 
peaceful and fruitful interlude. The writing fever was by 
no means assuaged by the poems sent to George; on the 
contrary, it was only just begun. To May, belong the four 
remaining odes known to have been written at Hampstead. 
Their dates are problematical, but from internal and ex- 
ternal evidence I believe their order to be: the Grecian Urn 
first; then the Ode on Melancholy, after that, the Nightin- 
gale \ and finally the Ode on Indolence. 

The first thing to be noted about the Grecian Urn is that 
the inspiration for it came from the Elgin Marbles, from 
that part of the frieze of the Parthenon which shows the 
cattle being brought to the sacrifice. No urn had any- 
thing to do with it, but the reason for the urn in the title 
is not hard to discover. By far the greater part of the 
Parthenon frieze is taken up with cavalcades of men on 
horses or driving chariots, and it is precisely these parts 
which most people think of when the frieze is mentioned. 
Also, in Keats's day, the frieze was commonly spoken of as 
the Elgin Marbles. If Keats had called his poem Ode on the 
Elgin Marbles, not only would the title have been an ugly 
one, it would have been a misleading and confusing one as 
well. For where in his poem were the cavalcades of horses, 
and the fine virile youths astride of them ? The attention 
of most readers would have been taken up in seeking for 
these, and only on a second reading would the poem have 
been fully apprehended. Yet it was imperative that the 
idea of Greece should be given at the outset, Greek sculp- 



242 JOHN KEATS 

ture must somehow be implied. Keats had seen Grecian 
urns in fact and picture, and the word "urn" is an attrac- 
tive one and full of artistic significance. With the idea of 
attributing his bas-relief to an imaginary urn, the difficulty 
was solved, and the poem forthwith became Ode on a 
Grecian Urn. 

No poem of Keats's has had its origins more diligently 
sought for than the Grecian Urn. But in this case such 
searching seems peculiarly unnecessary. Keats had spent 
two years intermittently gazing at the Elgin Marbles, 
he had pored again and again over volumes of drawings 
from the antique in Haydon's studio, he had read Gold- 
smith's History of Greece at Haydon's instigation, and he 
had done all this with an attention and imagination ever 
on the alert. How keen was his interest in these things 
may be seen by the fact that a tracing from a plate of 
the so-called Sosibos vase, made by him, was discovered 
in the Dilke Collection. 1 (The book in which he found the 
plate was the Musee Napoleon, a work descriptive of 
the classic spoils filched by the conquering Napoleon and 
brought to Paris. The text of these four monumental vol- 
umes was illustrated by outline engravings.) With various 
of Claude Lorraine's pseudo-classic pictures, he was also 
familiar; and in his visits to the British Museum he had 
not spent all his time with the Elgin Marbles, there was, 
as Sir Sidney Colvin points out, the Townley collection, 
and others as well. Granted all these things, they are the 
merest spark of a match to flash the eager fire of his im- 
agination. In no other poem that Keats wrote do we see 
his imagination more actively at work, or more perfectly 
master of its own expression. The poem is well-nigh flaw- 
less from beginning to end. It is a picture, an experience, 
and a creed, all in one. It is the world without and the 
world within. The "delightful forwardness" of the season 
is quite as much of a " source " as any of those we have been 

1 Colvin. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 243 

considering. The "happy, happy boughs," the "more 
happy, happy love," were with him daily, as was also the 
consciousness that these things do not last forever. Where 
else does his imagination give us a picture with such econ- 
omy of detail as in his lines about the little town? What a 
lightning stroke of genius to depict it only to empty it, 
leaving it solitary in the morning sun, and, by a swift 
transition from gay to grave, evoking its eternal desola- 
tion. Gay and grave, that is it Keats tuned to his high- 
est pitch of evocative creation, burning with so clear and 
white an emotion that all his senses, all his thoughts and 
beliefs, fuse together into a presentation which is at once 
firm and infinitely moving, just, but wistfully disillusioned, 
cordially frank, yet very nearly perfectly concealed. The 
poem is a magnificent example of joy through resignation, 
for Keats had looked with ecstasy and anguish at life, at 
love, at art, and had learnt to submit to immutable law, 
to grant the necessity of his school of Soul-making, per- 
chance, indeed, to find it good. Even if he had never heard 
of it, he had accepted Leonardo da Vinci's phrase: 

"Cosa bella mortal passa e non d'arte." 

I think that when Keats wrote the Grecian Urn he was 
at the very zenith of his development, more entirely single, 
whole, and undivided, more completely master of his 
qualities, all of them, than ever before or ever again. Not 
that he did not write superb poetry after this, but that his 
later work was produced in conflict, the conflict of his 
genius warring against outward conditions. He transcended 
them by the very act of composition, yet in doing so was 
forced to leave his everyday self behind. The perfection 
of the Grecian Urn sprang from just the fact that it was 
written by all his many selves working together in the 
complete harmony of absolute concord. 

What happened to alter his mood, we shall never know. 
Keats, being himself, was always more or less prone to a 



244 JOHN KEATS 

consciousness of the reverse of any happiness. There is a 
tale of ancient China wherein is described a mirror on the 
back of which was carved an image of a crane, the emblem 
of age and fate. This mirror was fashioned in such a man- 
ner that any one looking into it would see, not only his own 
face, but the shadow of the bird behind hovering dimly 
like an omen. Keats's joys too often presented themselves 
to him clouded by the shadow of a brooding fate. Possibly 
the month-long solace of a comprehending unity of ideas 
with Fanny Brawne had been marred by some incident or 
word. Certain it is that, whatever the reason, Keats's 
placidity broke down, not enough to debar him from writ- 
ing, but sufficiently to strike a sharp note of bitterness 
through his work. 

The order of the next three odes is by no means positive, 
and I do not offer it as such. I adopt the order I follow 
merely on account of probabilities, because it seems to fit 
best with the facts as we know them. From the third until 
the thirteenth of May there are no letters; from that time 
until the end of the month there are two to his sister 
Fanny, but they contain nothing pertinent. 1 On the ninth 
of June, he wrote to Miss Jeffrey that he had been "very 
idle lately," and a letter to the same lady on the thirty- 
first of May shows him in the sad mood which marks all 
these odes. It seems to me that this sadness ran a definite 
course, beginning with irony and violence, changing gradu- 
ally to a passive melancholy, and ending with exhaustion. 
In that belief, I have determined the order in which I deal 
with the odes. Of course, I may be wrong. 

Perhaps to speak of the Ode on Melancholy as being 
written in a mood of irony and violence may seem a bit 
extreme, particularly as the one really violent stanza, that 
which originally began the poem, was rejected in favour 
of the present opening. This is a subdued violence, no 
doubt, but violence nevertheless. Seek not for melancholy 
in melancholy things, cries the poet. If sorrow craves 

1 There is also a short note to Haslam telling of the receipt of a letter 
from Georee. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 245 

company, it is not in the contemplation of sad things that 
it will find it. No indeed, the grand paradox, the profound 
irony, of grief is to know itself partnered always with those 
very objects most proper to give pleasure. There is more 
misery for the unhappy in a rose, the iridescent hues of a 
wave breaking on shingle, a mass of full-blown peonies, 
than in all the traditionally sorrowful things that imagina- 
tion can summon. Grief abides forever in beauty to the 
sentient man, that is the theme of the poem. It is the 
direct antithesis of Keats's attitude in the Grecian Urn> 
where the realization of the eternal quality of art binds and 
heals the bitter wounds incident upon mere living. 
Irony and pain are in these lines: 

"Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows, 
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave, 
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes." 

Such behaviour could only be possible to the shallow and 
disillusioned, as Keats knew right well. Such counsel to 
himself was the height of sarcasm, rending the heart from 
which it sprang. For the lady herself is mortal, and like all 
mortals must die. The thought of love is inextricably 
woven with the thought of death, and no wave of the 
eternal peace forever enshrouding the calm majesty of 
great art can touch his feverish resistance to the savage 
cruelty of this knowledge. Utterly vanished and gone is 
the chastened admission of the universe which produced 
the Grecian Urn and filled it with delicate, sober, and satis- 
fying beauty. 

The third, and final, stanza of the Ode on Melancholy is 
an almost angry denial of the attitude taken in stanzas 
three and five of the Grecian Urn. This positive answer to 
the stand taken in these stanzas of the Grecian Urn seems 
so evidently intentional that it is largely upon it that I base 
my belief in the priority of that poem. To make my point 
clear, I will quote the stanza in question: 



246 JOHN KEATS 

"She dwells with Beauty Beauty that must die; 

And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips 
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh, 

Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips: 
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 

Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine, 

Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue 

Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine; 
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might, 
And be among her cloudy trophies hung." 

The Ode on Melancholy seems so little literary and so 
markedly autobiographical that I find the suggestions as 
to its possible origins very much out of place. Suppose 
that Keats had been feeding his wounded sensibilities on 
the splendid brutalities of Burton's Anatomy of Me/an- 
choly, postulates and illustrative anecdotes of the Burton 
type may easily have chimed with certain moods, but 
scarcely with the one embodied here. Granted that Keats 
was familiar with Fletcher's Nice Valour, and its lines 
lauding melancholy and calling it by the fond name of 
"sweetest melancholy," does anything in Keats's ode re- 
semble them? I think not. Let us, then, seek no farther 
for the source of the poem than a state of mind with which 
we, who have followed Keats for so long with a minute 
curiosity, must by now be sufficiently familiar. Keats did 
not find his paradox in Burton, Fletcher, or any other of 
his forerunners, but in the amazed and disgusted perusal 
of his own heart. 

The Ode on Melancholy is not nearly as good a poem as 
the Grecian Urn, nor should we expect it to be so under the 
circumstances. If his sad mood were not strong enough to 
stop his writing entirely, it was at least strong enough to 
hamper it. Nevertheless there are fine lines and passages 
in the poem, and Keats and his friends were abundantly 
right to publish it in the Lamia volume. The wisdom of 
including the Psyche, on the other hand, is decidedly open 
to question. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 247 

Supposing my theory as to the progress and duration 
of Keats's despondent mood to be correct, there is nothing 
surprising in the fact that his next ode, the Nightingale, 
should be among his most perfect poems. He was still 
unhappy, but the poignance of the feeling was so far 
blunted as to leave his imagination free to take posses- 
sion of his faculties for a space and do with them what it 
would. 

If the Grecian Urn is a practically flawless example of 
clear, unvexed, wide-eyed beauty, the Ode to a Nightingale 
is a no less perfect presentation of absolute magic, a magic 
shimmering over profound depths of meaning and sensa- 
tion. The overtones in the Grecian Urn are slight, the sur- 
face of the poem has an unrippled clarity about it which 
needs no more troubled music, no undershining reflections, 
to enhance its effect. The Nightingale, on the other hand, 
is strung and laced with strange, fantastic harmonies, with 
dissonances resolving faintly in the travelling air; it is 
fraught of foam and glancing shadows, of hints of mutabil- 
ity beyond the conscious ken. The Grecian Urn touches us 
to delight and admiration; the Nightingale stirs our hearts, 
grieves and satisfies them, and lingers on as a half-remem- 
bered echo of ourselves. The whole approach to the two 
poems is entirely different. Matthew Arnold, in his essay 
On the Study of Celtic Literature, has noted this difference 
of approach and commented upon it. The "little town" 
stanza in the Grecian Urn he calls "as Greek as a thing 
from Homer or Theocritus; it is compared with the eye on 
the object, a radiancy and light clearness being added," 
and again: "Keats passes at will from the Greek power to 
that power which, as I say, is Celtic; from his: 

'What little town by river or seashore' 



to his: 



'White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves' 



248 JOHN KEATS 

or his: 

1 . . . magic casements, opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn ' 

in which the very same note is struck as in those extracts 
which I quoted from Celtic romance, and struck with 
authentic and unmistakable power." 

To me, this "little town" stanza is not so much Greek as 
Japanese. The Greek presentation is simple, single, clear, 
but it is not quite this simplicity or clarity. What this 
stanza seems to me to resemble most closely are the Japa- 
nese colour prints of the eighteenth and nineteenth cen- 
turies. I have already pointed out Keats's likeness in cer- 
tain passages to these prints, 1 here is another example. 
If it be objected that Keats knew nothing of Japan or 
Japanese art, let it be remembered that neither did he 
know anything of Greek literature in the original, and the 
translations of it in his day were about as far from Greek 
in feeling as can be imagined. Keats's poetic instinct was 
exceedingly delicate and capable of apprehending a variety 
of nuances. It was no effort for his genius to go from the 
clear, unornamented, carefully outlined type of poetry 
represented in the "little town" stanza of the Grecian Urn, 
to the richly embroidered and fulminatingly coloured type 
of the Nightingale. A volume might be written tracing the 
varieties of style, attack, and presentation employed by 
Keats in his poems. I can do no more than hint of them 
here. 

The story of the genesis of the Ode to a Nightingale was 
told by Brown to Lord Houghton. I give it in Brown's 
words: 

"In the spring of 1819 a nightingale had built her nest 
near my house. Keats felt a tranquil and continual joy in 
her song; and one morning he took his chair from the 
breakfast table to the grass-plot under a plum-tree, where 

1 See Vol. II, p. 41. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 249 

he sat for two or three hours. When he came into the 
house, I perceived he had some scraps of paper in his hand, 
and these he was quietly thrusting behind some books." 

Brown goes on to say that the scraps were "four or five 
in number" and that the writing was "not well legible" so 
that "it was difficult to arrange the stanzas," but that, 
with Keats's aid, he finally did so. Brown was speaking 
from memory twenty years after the event, and in some 
details he was wrong. The poem was not written on four 
or five scraps of paper, but on two half sheets. 1 Far from 
being "not well legible," the manuscript is extraordinarily 
clearly written, and the corrections, which are few, are 
very easily deciphered. Even the proper arrangement of 
the stanzas is not hard to discover after a first moment of 
confusion. On the top of one of his half sheets, Keats wrote 
three words of what seems to have been an abandoned be- 
ginning to the poem, then he turned the sheet over and 
upside down, started properly with a title, and wrote 
straight on to the end of the page. He then took another 
sheet and wrote on to the end of that page, after which he 
went back to the verso of page one, but from the opposite 
end to the false beginning. He finished on the verso of 
page two. 

Notwithstanding the fact that Brown's memory played 
him false in these small particulars, his tale as a whole need 
not be doubted. The crumpled condition of the draft, 
attested to by Sir Sidney Colvin, 2 is a sufficient proof of 
Brown's general accuracy. On this point, Sir Sidney says: 
"These crushings and tearings . . . are quite of a kind to 
confirm Brown's statement about Keats having thrust the 
leaves away carelessly at the back of a bookshelf." What 
one wonders at is why neither Brown nor Lord Houghton 

1 See facsimile of the first draft, now in the Crewe Collection, repro- 
duced in the Keats Memorial Volume, compiled by Dr. George C. Wilkinson, 
1921. 

2 A Morning's Work in a Hampstead Garden, by Sir Sidney Colvin, 
Monthly Review, March, 1903; reprinted in Keats Memorial Volume, 1921. 



250 JOHN KEATS 

had access to this original draft, which was in the possession 
of the Reynolds family, where it remained, passing ap- 
parently from Reynolds to his sister, Mrs. Green, and from 
her to her sons, until, after the death of the surviving 
brother in 190x5, it was sold at auction in 1903. Reynolds 
must have forgotten its existence, as he made Lord Hough- 
ton free of everything he knew himself to possess. 

This has been a long digression, let us get back at once to 
Keats, sitting under the plum-tree in the double garden on 
a May morning, writing his ode. 

That the full tide of his melancholy mood has abated a 
little, we can see by the literary and imaginative quality 
of the poem throughout. Sad though his mood still is, he 
can once more take pleasure in the act of creation. The 
man who conjured up the vivid midnight scene of stanzas 
four and five is not so miserable that he cannot enjoy the 
play of fancy. The very act of evoking such images brought 
him a momentary surcease of pain. Leigh Hunt under- 
stood this very well, perhaps it takes a poet to do so. In 
his review of the Lamia volume, published the following 
year, he says of this ode: "There is that mixture in it of 
real melancholy and imaginary relief, which poetry alone 
presents us in her 'charmed cup/ " and adds: "A poet finds 
refreshment in his imaginary wine, as other men do in their 
real." 

The poem begins: 

"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk." 

A "drowsy numbness." The first poignance of his sad 
mood has passed, he is weary with grief, so weary that he 
would fain flee it a moment if so he may. And almost im- 
mediately he does, the bird-song carries his thoughts to 
Summer delights and he is only too willing to have them go. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 251 

"Dance, and Proven gal song, and sunburnt mirth!" 

These things, in the mere evoking of them, bring a measure 
of happiness. He longs to drink of " a beaker full of the 
warm South," and so drinking "leave the world unseen," 
for even while conjuring up his lovely Summer images, be- 
cause of them indeed, the thought of death haunts him. 
It is the old story of the Ode on Melancholy, the most 
beautiful things are by contrast the most painful. The 
third stanza is fraught with pain. He remembers only too 
well the many griefs which even his short life has known, 
and chief among them the constant underlying agony of 
Tom's death. It is the memory of poor Tom which gave 
him the line: 

"Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies." 

The last two lines of this stanza are an echo of the last 
half of the third stanza of the Grecian Urn and the first 
part of the last stanza of the Ode on Melancholy , but how 
differently he touches the theme here. The tone of these 
lines is infinitely more sensitive than that of the correspond- 
ing passages in either of the other odes. More sensitive 
and far more moving. This is the very intimacy of grief 
made manifest. There is no anger here, there is only the 
plain statement of unalterable and anguish-laden fact. 
But once more his attention is caught by the bird-song, 
and, listening to it, he forgets himself for a moment, only 
for a moment, the duration of two stanzas. The thought of 
death returns, he longs to "cease upon the midnight with 
no pain." Curiously enough, he had made use of this same 
expression in the sonnet of mid-March, Why did I laugh 
to-night? In the sonnet, he had said: 

"Yet would I on this very midnight cease." 

It was a characteristic habit with Keats to duplicate his 
expressions. A diligent student can find many parallels 



252 JOHN KEATS 

between one poem and another. I note this here merely 
as an example of a rather odd custom, and because I have 
passed over many others in silence. 

Stanza seven has been the cause of much foolish chatter. 
In calling the nightingale "immortal bird" and contrasting 
its eternity of life with individual man's short existence, 
any one with a spark of imaginative or poetical feeling 
realizes at once that Keats is not referring to the particular 
nightingale singing at that instant, but to the species 
nightingale. When Keats says: 

"The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
In ancient days by emperor and clown" 

he means, of course, that the song of the nightingale was 
the same to the ancients as to him. I should not stoop 
to such a primer-like explanation, had not so eminent a 
scholar and poet as Dr. Robert Bridges declared the idea 
of this passage to be " fanciful or superficial man being 
as immortal as the bird in every sense but that of same- 
ness, which is assumed and does not satisfy." 1 

The last lines of this stanza are, I think, the most beauti- 
ful in the poem. I quote them for pure love of them, to 
gladden my heart and I hope those of my readers: 

"Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
She stood in tears amid the alien corn ; 

The same that oft-times hath 
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn." 

It is interesting to observe that in the first draft Keats 
wrote "fairy," and the reading "faery" was not arrived 
at until the publication of the poem in the Lamia volume. 
The change of the spelling entirely alters the atmosphere, 
bringing to it some of the weird, unearthly loveliness 

1 John Keats. A Critical Essay, by Robert Bridges. 1895. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 253 

which characterizes La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Keats 
does not wish to suggest "fairy-land," the country of 
little elves dancing on fairy rings in the meadows, but 
the faery-land of old romance, of King Arthur and Pal- 
merin. 

The change from " fairy " to " faery " was a change made 
long after the writing of the poem. But two other correc- 
tions in the last two lines appear in the draft. Origi- 
nally the "magic casements " were simply " the wide case- 
ments," and the sea was "keelless," not "perilous." Of 
course, we do not know whether these changes were made 
while Keats was still under the plum-tree, or later. Pro- 
fessor Lowes has pointed out to me three passages in 
Diodorus * which bear a singular likeness to a part of these 
last two lines. In the third chapter of Book III, there is an 
account of the Arabian gulf, where we are told that " by the 
continual dashing of the floods ... it foams terribly." 
Three paragraphs after this, we read: "The waves dashing 
against these huge rocks, mount up in a curl, and foam to 
admiration." And the next sentence but one begins: "Next 
adjoining to this perilous sea." 

So far as we know, Keats had not been reading Diodorus 
lately. But we really know very little about it. Keats was 
an omnivorous reader, and may very well have been dipping 
into his old love again. I should take little stock in the 
foaming of the waves if they were not so closely connected 
with the "perilous sea." "Perilous seas" is infinitely better 
than "keelless seas"; whether Keats owes the expression 
to a recollection of Diodorus or not, it was a happy chance 
of memory or inspiration which gave it to him. But this 
passage from the old historian, picturesque and excellent 
though it is, is plain matter of fact. There is no hint here 
of "magic casements" or "faery lands forlorn." There is, 
in short, nothing of the atmosphere of Keats's lines to be 
found in the old Sicilian. For that atmosphere, I think we 

1 See Vol. I, p. 425. 



254 JOHN KEATS 

must turn back to Palmerin. In the third volume of that 
chronicle, it is related how the knight of the Savage Man, 
being taken a prisoner by an emissary of the giantess 
Colambar, was conveyed in a ship to the "Profound Isle." 
On the way, the ship ran into a storm. Textually, there is 
nothing in the description of this storm to join it to these 
lines in the Nightingale ode, but inferentially there is a 
great deal. Colambar is an enchantress, which gives the 
necessary atmosphere at once, and if the waves do not 
"foam" verbally, they certainly do by implication, as 
witness these passages: 

"the weather was changed suddenly with a mighty 
tempest ... So they drove along under bare poles, rather 
holding their death for certain than having any hope of 
life." 

And a few pages before: 

" on the third day the wind arose so extreme and violent, 
that in the midst of winter it could not be more rigorous. " 

Now the "Profound Isle" was close to another island, the 
"Perilous Isle," which had long been in the possession of 
another enchantress and had been bewitched until Pal- 
merin broke the spell. Palmerin embarked for this island 
on a stormy day, when the waves drove against the rocks 
"with a roaring which was heard afar off." The island 
itself was very rocky, with but one harbour. On the peak 
of it stood "a fair palace," which is described with great 
accuracy and much magnificence, and although the view 
from it is not mentioned, "glass windows of marvellous 
costliness" are, and the approach to it was through a 
beautiful wood which may well have harboured innumer- 
able nightingales. Some of this description is taken from 
much earlier in the book, but it all refers to the "Perilous 
Isle." I cannot help thinking that, although the exact 
expression "perilous seas" may be an echo of Diodorus, 
the whole passage, atmosphere and all, owes its existence 



SWIFT CURRENTS 255 

to the storm and the description of the palace of the 
sorceress Urganda in Palmerin of England, particularly as 
her successor in the magic art, the enchantress Eutropa, 
used the island and palace to lure wandering knights to 
their doom, hence the connotation of "forlorn." 
The word "forlorn" brought Keats back to himself: 

"Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 

To toll me back from thee to my sole self 1 
Adieu ! the fancy cannot cheat so well 
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. 
Adieu! Adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 
Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep 

In the next valley-glades: 
Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 

Fled is that music: Do I wake or sleep?" 

Excellent, excellent ending! Without abating a jot of 
the personal implication, Keats keeps his half-real, half 
fantastic, atmosphere throughout. The sense of dreaming 
enwraps the reader with the very first line of the poem and 
is never once absent, the concluding lines augmenting it to 
the softest and vaguest of minor climaxes. 

The Ode to a Nightingale is a marvel of poetic construc- 
tion. The way Keats manages his repeated words is an ex- 
treme example of his mastery of musical effect. All through 
his imaginative stanzas, the tone of the opening lines of 
the poem sounds as an organ-point beneath what he is 
actually saying, and the reiteration of his original note, 
muffled, distant, yet perfectly clear, in the final stanza, 
is superb. The student of poetic architectonics can find 
no better primer to his hand than the three odes: the 
Grecian Urn, the Nightingale and To Autumn^ and, for 
mere technique, a detailed examination of the variation 
of the whereabouts of the short line, or the lack of it, in 
all six odes is a liberal education. For structural, tech- 
nical, musical, and thematic handling these odes are ex- 



256 JOHN KEATS 

traordinarily rich in suggestion and are well worth the 
closest study. 

It is difficult to determine, nor is it in the least necessary, 
whether the Grecian Urn or the Nightingale is the finer; it 
is enough that both together are so variously and indis- 
putably fine. Only To Autumn can rank with them. They 
leave the other three odes of this Spring so far behind that 
in that fact alone is matter for much pondering on the 
singular inequality of Keats's production at any, and all, 
times throughout his life. If his artistic level rose steadily 
during his life, as it did, nevertheless, at any given moment, 
he was capable of writing poems far below the highest range 
of that particular moment. No poet is always at his best, 
but few are so consistently unequal as Keats never ceased 
to be. 

Haydon, writing in April, 1821, to Miss Mitford 1 has a 
tale to tell of the Ode to a Nightingale. He says: 

"as we were one evening walking in the Kilburn mea- 
dows he repeated it to me, before he put it to paper, in a low, 
tremulous undertone which affected me extremely. 1 ' 

Haydon was mistaken as to Keats not having written out 
the poem at the time of his reciting it during the walk in 
the Kilburn meadows. What was probably the case was 
that he told Haydon he had no fair copy; and the reason 
for his saying this we can surmise by deduction. Haydon 
was the man behind the throne of a magazine called 
Annals of the Fine Arts, edited by a certain James Elmes. 
This Elmes was a henchman and valiant ally of Haydon's, 
backing him up in all his quarrels and more than eager to 
take his cue in everything. It seems extremely likely that 
when Keats repeated the Ode to a Nightingale to him, 
Haydon at once suggested the publication of the poem in 
the Annals, and that Keats replied that he should have to 

1 "Benjamin Robert Haydon: Correspondence and Table-Talk. With a 
Memoir by his son, Frederick Wordsworth Haydon. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 257 

copy it out before sending it to Elmes. He did send it to 
Elmes, on Monday, June fourteenth, 1 and it duly appeared 
in the number of the magazine for July, 1819, signed, not 
with Keats's name, but with a dagger. In this dagger, we 
see the dirty work of the reviews. Keats had no mind to 
send the Ode to a Nightingale into the world to do battle 
against such a prejudice as he felt the dastardly reviews 
had saddled him with. The poem should at least have fair 
play. Hence the dagger, and hence that other pseudonym, 
Caviar ', which he employed later on two occasions. It is 
interesting to note that the word "faery" was still "fairy" 
when the poem was printed in the Annals. 

The last of the poems of this so fruitful Spring was if, 
as I say, my reasoning be correct the Ode on Indolence. 
By the time he wrote it, toward the end of May, it would 
seem, his long orgy of writing had tired him out. His 
sorrowful mood had worn away to a mere wistful essence 
of its first energy. From the title of the ode, I suppose some 
little time had elapsed between it and the Nightingale. He 
wrote to Miss Jeffrey on June ninth that he had "been 
very idle lately," so that it must have been written some 
time before that date, but he has this to say of this partic- 
ular ode: "You will judge of my 1819 temper when I tell 
you that the thing I have most enjoyed this year has been 
writing an ode to Indolence." We see by this that the ode 
was still in his mind; and there is another sentence to prove 
it, for Keats tells his correspondent: "I hope I am a little 
more of a Philosopher than I was, consequently a little 
less of a versifying Pet-lamb." Now in the sixth stanza of 
the Ode on Indolence occur these lines: 

"For I would not be dieted with praise, 
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!" 

These two identical metaphors are pretty good proof 

1 Buxton For man dates this letter "June I2th," but apparently this is 
an error, as Keats told Haydon on June 1 7th that he had sent the poem to 
Elmes "on Monday," and Monday was the I4th. 



258 JOHN KEATS 

that the ode was the last thing he had written, I think, but 
there is a more convincing one in the ode itself. Keats 
states the season perfectly clearly in two separate stanzas 
of the poem, and it is obvious that he is not inventing a 
fictitious time or place, as in the midnight stanzas in the 
Nightingale. This poem is absolutely autobiographical 
and makes no attempt to be otherwise, so that what he 
says of his environment may be taken as exact fact. 
These are the lines in question : 

". . . Ripe was the drowsy hour; 
The blissful cloud of summer-indolence 
Benumb'd my eyes: 

The morn was clouded, but no shower fell, 

Tho* in her lids hung the sweet tears of May." 

The Ode on Indolence is merely a poetic version of his 
Greek Vase image of mid-March. 1 He imagines three 
figures, a man and two women, passing by him "like 
figures on a marble urn." As each approaches, it turns to- 
ward him. Three times the figures pass him, and he knows 
the two women to be Love and that "maiden most un- 
meek" his "demon Poesy"; the man is Ambition. For a 
moment he longs to follow them, but finds himself inert 
and too content to lift his head "cool-bedded in the 
flowery grass." He admits that he still has 

". . .visions for the night, 
And for the day faint visions there is store " ; 

but for the moment he can only bid the phantoms to 
vanish, for nothing can rouse him, his only desire is to feel 
nothing. 

This, of course, was pure fatigue, and the poem shows 
it. He was well-advised to exclude it from the Lamia 
volume. 

1 See Vol. II, p. 191. 



SWIFT CURRENTS 259 

Because of the obvious duplicate of idea between the 
Ode on Indolence and the March image, it has often been 
supposed that Keats must have written this ode some time 
in February or March. Sir Sidney Colvin was the first 
person to assign to it its proper date of May. He suggests 
that the languorous mood of March had returned. It 
evidently had, or one very much like it only a shade more 
sad, and the cause was the same in the latter case as in the 
former sheer weariness. The reasons for this fatigue 
were very much the same also, except that, in May, we 
have an excess of work to add to the general quota of dis- 
appointment and difficult conditions. Notwithstanding all 
this, there is another thing which we must take into ac- 
count: the poet's natural aptitude to retain in his mind a 
striking figure or idea for future use. When Keats first 
thought of personifying Love, Ambition, and Poetry by 
figures on a Greek vase, he was not in a mood to make use 
of them. Later, having done what he knew to be a con- 
siderable amount of good work and then suffered a short 
and most unwelcome pause, he set about hunting for a 
subject which should start him off again, and found his 
idea of two months before still waiting to be utilized. By 
this time, the idea (which he had liked and thought capable 
of possibilities from the moment of conceiving it) had taken 
on a more or less definite shape. Every writer is perfectly 
familiar with the phenomenon of unconscious creation. 
Henry James, in the Preface to his novel, The American? 
describes this phenomenon so accurately that I will quote 
his description here: 

" I was charmed with my idea, which would take, how- 
ever, much working out; and precisely because it had so 
much to give, I think, must I have dropped it into the deep 
well of unconscious cerebration : not without hope, doubt- 
less, that it might eventually emerge from that reservoir, 
as one had already known the buried treasure to come to 

1 The Navels and Tales of Henry James. New York Edition. 1907. 



260 JOHN KEATS 

light, with a firm iridescent surface and a notable increase 
in weight." 

Keats's idea, in this case, did not "come to light with a 
firm iridescent surface and a notable increase in weight" 
for the very excellent reason that he did not wait for it to 
come to light at all. He pulled it out of the shadowland of 
the unconscious because he wanted to write a poem and 
assure himself that the wave of creation was not spent. 
The result of this most unwise proceeding was a failure. 
On Idolence is much the poorest of his odes proper, as he 
knew very well. He may have enjoyed writing it, but I 
think his remarks on the subject to Miss Jeffrey smack 
rather more of a wilful desire to praise this feeble child of 
his brain than of any real belief in the quality of the ode 
itself, also probably he liked the main idea of the ode quite 
apart from its working out. Later, when it came to a ques- 
tion of publication, this ode, as we have seen, went into the 
discard. 

With the Ode on Indolence y Keats's month of magnificent 
and intensive creation came to an abrupt end. The chief 
cause for this was that the quasi-peace which he had been 
enjoying was suddenly shattered to bits. This did not 
happen all at once; and to show the gradual advance of 
disagreeable circumstances, I must go back a little. 

On the thirteenth of May, the long awaited letter from 
George arrived. The young couple had changed their 
plans, it seemed, and up to date had no remarkably good 
news to impart. The journey across country to Pittsburgh 
from Philadelphia, where they had landed, was a decidedly 
rough and unpleasant one if taken in the stage coaches of 
the place and period. To save his young wife the fatigue 
of such a trip, George had purchased a carriage and 
horses a considerable expense for him and the pair 
had travelled to Pittsburgh in this equipage. Arriving at 
Pittsburgh, they forwarded the horses to Cincinnati by land 



SWIFT CURRENTS 261 

and transferred themselves and their belongings to a keel- 
boat in which they floated for some six hundred miles down 
the Ohio River. For some reason, they stopped at Louisville, 
and here George changed his mind about going on to Birk- 
beck's settlement, deciding on someone's very poor advice 
to try his fortunes in a different way. Why they did not 
remain in Louisville, we do not know, but they did not; 
instead, they went on to Henderson, some hundred miles 
or so farther down the river. At Henderson, the young 
couple lodged in the same house with Audubon, the 
naturalist. Audubon seems to have persuaded George to 
buy shares in a boat which plied up and down the river 
with cargoes of various sorts. The boat was out on one of 
its trips at the time, and George appears to have invested 
his money without having seen it. Eventually he dis- 
covered that the boat had sunk and was a total loss. 
Rightly or wrongly, George Keats believed that Audubon 
had known that the boat was at the bottom of the river 
when he persuaded George to put his money into it. 1 All 
this information was not in the letter received on May 
thirteenth, only so much as declared George's intention of 
not going on to Birkbeck's settlement. One bit of really 
good news the letter did contain, George and his wife were 
both quite well. But if George's tidings were negative, with 
a leaning toward the good side, another piece of intelligence 
which Keats heard shortly afterwards was very much the 
reverse. The why of Keats's finding it out will take a little 
explanation. 

Brown, as we already know, always let his half of Went- 
worth Place for the Summer. This habit of his made it 
imperative for Keats to look about for somewhere to spend 
the time of Brown's absence. There had been some idea 
of Keats and Brown passing the Summer in Brussels, but 

1 The American Brother of John Keats, by John Gilmer Speed, in The 
Christian Union for August 20, 1892. Also Some Recollections of George 
Keats, by James Freeman Clarke, in Buxton Forman's Library Edition. 



262 JOHN KEATS 

the plan had been given up. As the time of Brown's depar- 
ture drew near, Keats began to consider seriously what he 
should do. He could not face going back to his old Well 
Walk lodgings, the thought of Tom was too painfully 
insistent there. One wonders why no other lodgings at 
Hampstead appear to have been thought of, but nothing of 
the kind seems to have been considered, possibly for fear 
of hurting the Bentleys' feelings, who, Keats tells Miss 
Jeffrey, "have become friends of mine." Also his funds 
were at a very low ebb. By the end of May, Keats had 
come to see his immediate future as one of two alternatives. 
Either he would go as surgeon on an Indiaman, or he 
would retire to some cheap place in the country and con- 
tinue to study and write. On the thirty-first of May, he 
wrote to Miss Jeffrey, asking her to inquire for a cheap 
lodging near Teignmouth; not in Teignmouth itself, on 
that point he is very clear, again, of course, on account of 
its connection with Tom. These alternatives he called 
"the choice of two poisons." 

Miss Jeffrey answered promptly, strongly advising 
against the Indiaman, and suggesting the village of Brad- 
ley as a good place for Keats to play the studious hermit in. 
Keats loathed the idea of the Indiaman. It is probable 
that his only reason for contemplating it was to escape 
hiring himself out to a country or suburban practitioner, 
which would have entailed the detested shop. On the 
eighth of June, Rice went out to Hampstead to see him and 
propose their both going to the little village of Shanklin in 
the Isle of Wight. This meant sharing expenses, which was 
an item to Keats, and he liked Rice very much. The plan 
seemed a godsend and he accepted it. But before the mo- 
ment to start came, things took a decided turn for the 
worse. By the fourteenth of June, his sore throat had come 
back. Of course we can instantly see how all the worry 
and trouble he had been undergoing would have had just 
this effect. His resistance was so reduced that all the 



SWIFT CURRENTS 263 

symptoms of his fatal disease were bound to be augmented 
forthwith. And this was not all. 

Going on Wednesday, the sixteenth, to see Abbey, pre- 
sumably to try and get some money for his approaching 
journey and stay at Shanklin, he was greeted by the mis- 
erable news that his aunt, Mrs. Midgely Jennings, dis- 
satisfied with Abbey's administration of her mother-in- 
law's estate, very likely also erroneously thinking that it 
was in some way owing to Abbey's negligence that the 
original chancery suit still hung fire, had threatened to 
bring another suit in chancery at once. The effect of such a 
suit would be to tie up completely all the funds in Abbey's 
hands and leave Keats for an indefinite period absolutely 
penniless. 

It is much to Keats 's credit that he at once decided to 
seek a position with an apothecary. But here Brown 
stepped in. Brown, like Woodhouse, had implicit faith in 
Keats's genius and the certainty of his winning fame and 
being able to support himself if time were given him. He 
would not hear of the apothecary scheme. Keats must try 
the press again, and he must go to Shanklin with Rice and 
write in as much peace as this not too auspicious arrange- 
ment would allow. And Brown not only encouraged and 
counselled, he lent Keats money to go on with. This was 
generous of Brown, although one cannot help feeling that 
it would have been more generous to have given up the idea 
of renting his house and let Keats stay quietly on at 
Hampstead, where he had the comfort of being near Fanny 
Brawne. It is, of course, possible that Brown had already 
engaged with his Summer tenants; at any rate, whether he 
had or not, the idea of changing his plans does not seem to 
have entered into his calculations. 

At this juncture, Keats asked Haydon to return some of 
the money which Keats had lent him. His letter told 
Haydon all the particulars of his situation very calmly 
and clearly. He did not ask for the return of the whole 



264 JOHN KEATS 

loan, he merely asked for "some" money. But here Keats 
encountered Haydon's seamy side. Haydon's capacity for 
borrowing was inexhaustible, but he never paid his debts, 
and the debt to Keats was no exception. Keats never got 
back a single penny of his loan. This cut Keats to the 
quick, naturally. Writing to George in September, he has 
this to say of Haydon's behaviour: 

"he did not seem to care much about it, and let me 
go without my money with almost nonchalance, when he 
ought to have sold his drawings to supply me. I shall 
perhaps still be acquainted with him, but for friendship, 
that is at an end." 

This, I think, to be in the main true. Keats eventually 
drifted back into some sort of a friendship with Haydon, 
but never into the close intimacy which had marked their 
early connection. He was too profoundly hurt, and Haydon 
had proved himself too unworthy. Bailey and Haydon, 
two friendships lost in a twelvemonth. A strange, pathetic, 
eventful twelvemonth it had been. Looking back to the 
previous June, Keats must have felt as though he were so- 
journing in another world. A very changed world indeed, 
for had not Abbey told him, along with the information 
about Mrs. Jennings, of a letter he had had from George 
announcing the birth of a daughter. Such an event, for- 
tunate although Keats must have thought it in one way, 
was bound to increase George's difficulties considerably, 
and, closely bound together as the brothers were, what 
affected one affected both. Here was the shadow of a new 
responsibility for John, who had all he could cope with as it 
was. To add to his trials, he must now tear himself away 
from Fanny Brawne. It was a bitter struggle, but what else 
was to be done ? If they were ever to marry, he must make 
some money, and everyone but Abbey seemed to be agreed 
that the best way for him to do so was by writing. It is to 
the honour of Fanny Brawne that she put no stumbling- 



SWIFT CURRENTS 265 

block in his way. She had much to bear during the next 
four months, but she never flinched. Keats knew better 
than his friends the quality of the girl to whom he was 
engaged. The day came, and Keats bade her good-bye, 
with what feelings can very well be imagined, and he and 
Rice set off for Shanklin. 



CHAPTER XI 
A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 

BEFORE leaving Hampstead, Keats seems in a measure to 
have set his house in order. Among other things, he re- 
turned various borrowed books, as we see by an undated 
letter to Dilke, erroneously attributed by someone to the 
following year. 1 Another thing he did was to send his 
picture to his sister Fanny. In his last letter to her before 
his departure, written on June sixteenth, he says: 

11 1 am very sorry to think I shall not be able to come to 
Walthamstow. The Head Mr. Severn did of me is now too 
dear, but here enclosed is a very capital Profile done bv 
Mr. Brown/' 

The "Head" by Mr. Severn was the miniature exhibited 
that year at the Royal Academy Exhibition. Severn made 
several copies of it, one of which was at some time given to 
Fanny Brawne. The " capital Profile done by Mr. Brown " 
was undoubtedly a silhouette. A silhouette of Keats was 
discovered among Severn's papers, which it has been the 
custom to attribute to Severn, a fact that I have always 
held in very grave doubt. Indeed, I have long been con- 
vinced that the author of it was Brown, but it is only 
within the last few months that my belief has become 
a certainty. During the current year (1924), the Keats 
Memorial Association at Hampstead received a number of 
relics of the poet from the descendants of Charles Brown in 
New Zealand. Among them was another silhouette so like 
the first that there can be no doubt that they were done by 
the same hand. This second silhouette is known to have 

The letter is endorsed in pencil, " 1820," but this is evidently a mis- 
take. Unfortunately Buxton Forman has followed this misleading date in 
his editions. 



268 JOHN KEATS 

been cut by Brown, and a drawing by him, also lately dis- 
covered, which I have used as a frontispiece to the second 
volume of this book, shows such similarity of treatment 
with both silhouettes that there is no longer any room for 
query on the subject. I have put the two silhouettes side 
by side on one page in order that they may be compared. 
They were cut on different days, that is clear, and represent 
Keats in different moods. The first is the more alert; the 
second, the more appealing. I am inclined to think that the 
first was done earlier than the other, possibly before Tom's 
death, or, if not so soon as that, then at some time during 
the Winter when Keats was feeling particularly well; the 
second I believe to represent him just before going to 
Shanklin, and was probably the one sent to Fanny Keats. 
Silhouettes can be easily duplicated by the simple means of 
tracing the outline of the original picture on the white side 
of another sheet of silhouette paper, so that because Severn, 
or Fanny Keats, had a copy, is no proof that replicas may 
not have existed. From Brown's having carefully pre- 
served the second silhouette, I suppose it to have been the 
one which he preferred. To my mind, these silhouettes are 
the most attractive, and the most authentic, likenesses of 
Keats which have come down to us. The life mask is 
absolutely accurate, of course, but in looking at it we have 
to make some allowance for the weight of the plaster on the 
more mobile parts of the features. The lips, for instance, 
give the impression of being drawn back and depressed. 

It was on Sunday, June twenty-seventh, that Keats and 
Rice left London by the Portsmouth coach. They evidently 
went down by day, as Keats wrote his sister on July sixth: 

"I was on the Portsmouth Coach the Sunday before 
last in that heavy shower and I may say that I went to 
Portsmouth by water I got a little cold, and as it al- 
ways flies to my throat I am a little out of sorts that way." 

This was not the first time that Keats had been on the 




2 | 




ffll 



H 
< 



u 



J W s 
O.S 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 269 

top of a coach in a rain-storm. But this time the shower 
seems to have caught him en route. We will hope that he 
had grown at least wise enough not to risk starting outside 
in a rain, as he had done when he went to Teignmouth the 
year before. The reason for the day coach is obvious; the 
expense was less. There were many day coaches from 
London to Portsmouth, but the slowest, and therefore, 
without doubt, the cheapest, was the "Regulator," which 
left the Angel Inn, St. Clement's, Strand, at eight in the 
morning. Keats's altered finances stand very clearly re- 
vealed by this choice of coach; hitherto he seems to have 
travelled either by the mail or by some crack coach. That 
I am right as to his going down by the most inexpensive 
means is shown by the fact that "some common French 
people but very well behaved" were among his fellow 
passengers. The "Regulator" deposited its travellers at 
the George Inn, Portsmouth, at seven o'clock in the eve- 
ning. It is only some seven miles from Portsmouth to Ryde, 
but it is scarcely likely that the "Regulator" connected 
with a packet as did the Royal Mail. It was possible to 
procure a wherry at any hour, but it is extremely improbable 
that our two young men went to the expense of hiring one. 
No, I think they passed that night at the George and 
crossed over to the Isle of Wight by the first public packet 
the next morning. This would date their arrival at Shank- 
lin as being on Monday, June twenty-eighth. 

The chief thing in Keats's mind on reaching his desti- 
nation was homesickness. He was perfectly miserable. 
There was no post from Shanklin, letters had to trust to 
carrier's carts, or some other means even more casual, for 
conveyance to the post town of Newport, nine miles away 
by road. On Tuesday night Keats wrote Fanny Brawne 
so agonized a letter that, the convenient carrier not being 
forthcoming on Wednesday, he thought better of his 
vehemence and tore it up. He tells the story in another 
letter to Miss Brawne, written on Thursday morning: 



2 7 o JOHN KEATS 

"I am glad I had not an opportunity of sending off a 
Letter which I wrote for you on Tuesday night Twas 
too much like one out of Ro[u]sseau's Heloise. I am more 
reasonable this morning. The morning is the only proper 
time for me to write to a beautiful Girl whom I love so 
much : for at night, when the lonely day has closed, and the 
lonely, silent, unmusical Chamber is waiting to receive me 
as into a Sepulchre, then believe me my passion gets en- 
tirely the sway, then I would not have you see those 
R[h]apsodies which I once thought it impossible I should 
ever give way to, and which I have often laughed at in an- 
other, for fear you should [think me] 1 either too unhappy 
or a little mad." 

Later in the letter, he says: 

"I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a 
form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word 
than fair. . . But however selfish I may feel, I am sure I 
could never act selfishly: as I told you a day or two before 
I left Hampstead, I will never return to London if my 
Fate does not turn up Pam 2 or at least a Court-card." 

He even envisages the possibility of her marrying someone 
else. And why not, when his own prospects seemed to put 
marriage on the other side of beyond? If, he tells her, he 
thought that she felt for him what he does for her, 

"I do not think I could restrain myself from seeing you 
again tomorrow for the delight of one embrace. But no 
I must live upon hope and Chance." 

It was a pretty awful situation truly, to have all one's 
hopes of the future depend upon the working of an imagi- 
nation sorely hampered by untoward circumstance. And 
he was feeling far from well, and Rice was very poorly 
indeed. They were in a lovely place, to be sure: 

1 These words are missing in the original, they were interpolated by 
Buxton Forman. 

2 Pam is the knave of clubs in the game of loo. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 271 

"Our window looks over house-tops and Cliffs onto the 
Sea, so that when the Ships sail past the Cottage chimnies 
you may take them for weathercocks. We have Hill and 
Dale, forest and Mead, and plenty of lobsters." 

So he writes to his sister, bravely keeping his anxieties 
out of his letter. 

The truth is that neither place nor companion were of 
Keats's choosing, and neither was suited to his state of 
mind or health. It is one thing to like a man and enjoy 
his companionship for an hour or a day, and quite another 
to find that same man sympathetic in the role of daily 
familiar. Rice was a thoroughly good fellow, but he was 
ailing himself, and contact with illness of any sort was of 
all things the most undesirable for Keats just then. De- 
pressed as he was, he needed to be surrounded with cheerful- 
ness and normality, and these were just the things which 
Rice could not give him. What was the matter with Rice, 
no one says, but he seems to have been subject to sick 
spells of more or less duration, and he was suffering from 
one of these spells at Shanklin apparently. Keats speaks of 
him as "Poor Rice" and admits that "his illness makes 
him rather a melancholy companion." Writing to Dilke a 
month later, when Rice had left Shanklin, Keats is more 
explicit. This is how he sums up the situation, then happily 
over: 

"Rice and I passed rather a dull time of it. I hope he 
will not regret coming with me. He was unwell, and I was 
not in very good health: and I am afraid we made each 
other worse by acting upon each other's spirits. We would 
grow as melancholy as need be. I confess I cannot bear a 
sick person in a House, especially alone it weighs upon 
me day and night." 

Rice, however, had a certain bonhomie^ we have al- 
ready seen how well he got on with the Devonshire bar- 
maids, 1 and here at Shanklin he developed a knack of 
1 See Vol. I, p. 610. 



272 JOHN KEATS 

chatting with the village people. This was a knack which 
Keats was conspicuously without. Apropos of this, Keats 
tells his sister of Rice: 

"He has a greater tact in speaking to people of the vil- 
lage than I have, and in those matters is a great amuse- 
ment as well as a good friend to me.' 1 

Keats had come down to the Isle of Wight to work, and 
work he must, willy-nilly. How long he took to get at it, 
there is no means of telling, but by Thursday, July eighth, 
he was in full swing, as we see by a letter to Fanny Brawne 
of that date. There is much in this letter of prime im- 
portance. It shows us a great deal of Fanny Brawne's 
attitude, particularly her natural resentment at Keats's 
constant harping upon her beauty, as if that were the part 
of her that chiefly mattered; it shows much of the reason 
for Keats's failure as a lover, the reason why he suffered as 
he did, the misfortune of his temperament which, under the 
scourge of his illness, made the purely physical side of love 
of such vast importance to him; it shows also his belief, 
which was probably based on a correct diagnosis, that had it 
been possible for him and Miss Brawne to be married at 
once most of his morbid convulsions and imaginings would 
have faded away. I will quote the letter somewhat fully: 

"All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights, have 
I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made 
it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: 
or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot 
be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as 
you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my 
Fancy was afraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if 
you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 
'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and 
bedewed with Pleasures . . . Why may I not speak of your 
Beauty, since without that I could never have lov'd you? 
I cannot conceive any beginning of such love as I have 
for you but Beauty. There may be a sort of love for which, 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 273 

without the least sneer at it, I have the highest respect and 
can admire it in others: but it has not the richness, the 
bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after my 
own heart. So let me speak of your Beauty, though to my 
own endangering; if you could be so cruel to me as to try 
elsewhere its Power. You say you are afraid I shall think 
you do not love me in saying this you make me ache the 
more to be near you. I am at diligent use of my faculties 
here, I do not pass a day without sprawling some blank 
verse or tagging some rhymes; and here I must confess, 
that (since I am on that subject) I love you the more in 
that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and 
nothing else. I have met with women whom I really 
think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given 
away by a novel.' 1 

Fanny Brawne loved him for his own sake most certainly, 
loved him through fair weather and foul, and was even so 
understanding as not to be jealous of his work. And this 
work, this sprawled blank verse and tagged rhymes, what 
was it in this second week of July, 1819? This is not a little 
difficult to say. In a mutilated letter of July twelfth to 
Reynolds, Keats writes: 

"You will be glad to hear, under my own hand (though 
Rice says we are like Sauntering Jack and Idle Joe), how 
diligent I have been, and am being. I have finished the 
Act, and in the interval of beginning the 2 nd have pro- 
ceeded pretty well with Lamia, finishing the I st part, 
which consists of about four hundred lines." 

The act here referred to has always been supposed to be 
the first act of Otho the Great, but there is a little hitch in 
connection with that supposition. What is puzzling about 
this reference is that Brown distinctly told Lord Houghton 
that it was at Shanklin that Keats "undertook" the 
writing of Otho the Great in collaboration with him, and the 
method of this collaboration as detailed by Brown (I shall 
quote Brown's words in a moment) makes Brown's pres- 



274 JOHN KEATS 

ence at the time of writing a necessity. Now Brown does 
not seem to have arrived at Shanklin until later in the 
month. Keats first mentions him in a letter to Fanny 
Brawne, written on Sunday, July twenty-fifth, and this 
mention would seem to place his arrival as having taken 
place toward the end of the preceding week. Of course, 
Brown, in recollection, may have confused a later pro- 
ceeding with an earlier. It may be that the plan of writing 
Otho had been broached before Keats left Hampstead, and 
the first two acts sketched out for Keats to work upon. 
This would seem a possible explanation of the puzzle were 
it not that it leaves out of account entirely the way in 
which the two friends worked; also there is another much 
more plausible one, the basis for which has only just come 
to light. To understand its importance, I must preface the 
discussion of it a little. 

Reynolds, who, notwithstanding his position as a bud- 
ding solicitor, had not quite given up his pen, had lately 
been induced to try his hand at a musical farce. This farce, 
which bore the singular title of One, Two, Three, Four, Five; 
By Advertisement, was written for a young actor named 
John Reeve whose chief asset was a marked talent for 
mimicry. The farce was produced at the English Opera 
House on July seventeenth, 1819. It enjoyed quite a 
success, and was popular enough to be published as one of 
the series of printed plays known as Cumberland's British 
Theatre. Woodhouse speaks of it to Taylor, in a letter 1 
which seems to have been written in August, as follows: 

"I have just bought his "One two three four Five' 1 and 
paid just that number of pence for it plus 3. It lies on my 
table uncut; If I had read it I would send it you: but your 
curiosity can keep ... It shall go in the next parcel." 

Again he writes, under the date of September seventh: 2 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 2 Ibid. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 275 

"I also send (if Hessey forwards it, which I have in- 
joined him to do) Reynolds's One, two 3.4.5. Such a thing 
must be judged of, not as a literary production, but, by 
your golden rule, according to the purpose of the Au- 
thor . . . How triumphantly it succeeded, I told you when 
I went in my theatro-critical capacity to see it. There 
is much of Reynolds's kind of wit, half pun & half humour 
in it." 

Now in the Woodhouse Book in the Morgan Library 
there is a most extraordinary fragment. It is written on all 
four sides of a sheet of octavo paper and is not in Keats's 
handwriting. I am not prepared to say in whose writing it 
is without more study than I have yet been able to accord 
it, but this is of little moment, since it seems certain that 
it is merely a copy. Woodhouse's statement that all the 
poems in his book were by Keats unless otherwise labelled 
leaves little room for doubt on this score; and, as a matter 
of fact, nothing in the volume is in Keats's hand, all the 
poems and fragments are copies by someone or other. This 
particular fragment is an excerpt from a play, and copied 
in a hurry. It begins in the middle of a scene, and is 
very difficult to read, as the characters speaking are only 
occasionally indicated, and there is no punctuation to 
speak of, and no spacing between speeches. I have given 
this fragment at the end of this book, 1 together with an 
emendated version, spaced and punctuated by me. The 
scene is mostly written in blank verse, but there is a little 
song in one place which is obviously intended to be actually 
sung to music. I am bound to admit that the scene does 
not in any way remind one of Keats, but it does very 
forcibly remind one of Reynolds's musical farce, and might 
easily have been written by Keats in an endeavour to 
write something pleasing to the popular taste. Reynolds's 
farce is in prose, occasionally dropping into blank verse, 
and with several interpolated songs; there is no prose in 

1 See Appendix B. 



276 JOHN KEATS 

the fragment, nevertheless the construction of the scene 
and the included song, together with the general tenor 
of the whole, link the two pieces together as belonging 
to a genre. Keats had doubtless read Reynolds's farce 
before leaving London, and he was probably as partial to 
"Reynolds's kind of wit" as was Woodhouse. Scenting in 
One, Two, Three, Four, Five a popular success, it may well 
have occurred to him that one way of raising the wind 
would be to do something similar, and hence this attempt 
in a field quite new to him. The characters and plot of this 
fragment closely follow a pattern very familiar to readers 
of early nineteenth century farces. The scene deals with a 
stock situation, but the persons of the play, although again 
they are the quite usual dramatis persona of innumerable 
plays of the type, have a distinct liveliness and humour, 
and give the fragment sufficient interest to leave us specu- 
lating on what was to come. In view of all this, I cannot 
help thinking that the puzzle in the letter to Reynolds finds 
in this fragment its answer. Probably Keats and Reynolds 
had talked over the likelihood of Keats's being able to fol- 
low in his friend's footsteps and produce an actable farce, 
hence Keats's assurance that he had done one act of it. I 
do not say that I have proved this to be the case; I merely 
say that here is an explanation which should, at least, be 
considered. 

Keats was turning a bold face to his difficulties certainly. 
He had been at Shanklin just two weeks and had com- 
pleted an act of something, and four hundred lines of 
Lamia. More than this, he knew what he was doing, and 
where it might lead and where not. He tells Reynolds: 

" I have great hopes of success, because I make use of 
my judgement more deliberately than I have yet done; but 
in case of failure with the world, I shall find my content . . . 
however I should like to enjoy what the competencies of 
life procure, I am in no wise dashed at a different prospect. 
I have spent too many thoughtful days and moralized 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 277 

through too many nights for that, and fruitless would they 
be indeed, if they did not by degrees make me look upon 
the affairs of the world with a healthy deliberation. I have 
of late been moulting: not for fresh feathers and wings: 
they are gone, and in their stead I hope to have a pair of 
sublunary legs. I have altered, not from a Chrysalis into a 
butterfly, but the contrary; having two little loopholes, 
whence I may look out into the stage of the world : and 
that world on our coming here I almost forgot. The first 
time I sat down to write, I could scarcely believe in the 
necessity for so doing. It struck me as a great oddity. Yet 
the very corn which is now so beautiful, as if it had only 
took to ripening yesterday, is for the market; so, why 
should I be delicate?" 

To write with the conscious intention of selling what he 
was writing as a chief means of support, was new to Keats, 
and the idea irked him a little. So much we can plainly see, 
but also we can notice how Keats, in a sort of wonder, 
found that the mature artist may cozen his muse to obey 
his beck and call to a considerable extent. Otho y his main 
pot-boiler, was a failure, it is true, but this was for several 
reasons besides the one of being written to order; while 
Lamia was a brilliant success. It must have given him a 
great deal of satisfaction to find himself fairly at work, 
started upon the enormous task of pushing away the 
clouds which hung over him by doing something with a 
direct bearing upon his destiny. Every step on the road 
brought him, by just so much, nearer to marriage with 
Fanny Brawne. 

But Keats reckoned without his health. Three days 
more, and he was in an " irritable state of health." And the 
irritation, as was usual with him, led to languor. On 
Thursday, July fifteenth, he confessed to Fanny Brawne, 
who seems to have written him a consoling letter: 

"You must have found out by this time I am a little 
given to bode ill like the raven ; it is my misfortune not my 



278 JOHN KEATS 

fault; it has proceeded from the general tenor of the cir- 
cumstances of my life, and rendered every event suspi- 
cious." 

He tells her that when he thinks that he will not see her 
" the next day, or the next it takes on the appearance of 
impossibility and eternity"; he gives himself a month more 
and then he will see her, although, he adds, "after having 
once more kissed you Sweet I would rather be here alone at 
my task than in the bustle and hateful literary chitchat." 

This is not so much the utterance of a disillusioned man 
as that of a sick one. He was taxing his strength for all it 
would bear, and had no energy left for companies, or 
crowds, or gadding of any sort. 

Sometime during the week of July nineteenth, Brown 
appeared at Shanklin, together with a fellow named 
Martin, one of that innumerable outside circle of friends 
whom Keats occasionally mentions. The arrival of Brown 
was a pleasure, but the racket of four young men in very 
confined quarters Keats found hard to bear. He excuses 
himself for not having written to Fanny Brawne "on 
Saturday" by saying: 

"We have had four in our small room playing at cards 
night and morning leaving me no undisturbed opportunity 
to write. Now Rice and Martin are gone I am at liberty." 

It must have been a great relief when Rice and Martin 
departed, leaving only Brown, whom Keats had come to 
regard almost as another brother. He and Brown had 
grown habituated to living together, and, as had happened 
before, Brown's splendid health and cheerful outlook on 
life were tonic to Keats's soul. The letter to Miss Brawne 
was written on Sunday, July twenty-fifth, so Rice and 
Martin must have left Shanklin either late on Saturday or 
early on Sunday morning. The immediate effect of their 
departure was to send Keats feverishly back to poetry. He 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 279 

has, he informs Miss Brawne, "been all day employed in a 
very abstr[a]ct Poem." Whether he referred to Lamia or to 
Hyperion, which he may have been tinkering, we can only 
surmise. 

To gain any accurate knowledge of Keats's inner life at 
this period the letters to Fanny Brawne are an indis- 
pensable study. Considerations of space alone prevent me 
from quoting them entire. As it is, we must do with ex- 
tracts. In this letter, we find him discussing his idea of him- 
self, which was not flattering, and we see how the very 
longing of his love, only so distantly certain of fulfilment, 
brought him up sharply against the idea of death. His 
absence from Fanny Brawne caused every thought con- 
nected with her to take on a tinge of morbidness. And this 
morbidness grew on him all that Summer, grew and grew 
until it nearly engulfed them both in immediate tragedy, a 
tragedy only averted by their finally meeting. Here is his 
mood on that particular Sunday evening: 

"You cannot conceive how I ache to be with you: how I 
would die for one hour for what is in the world? I say 
you cannot conceive; it is impossible you should look with 
such eyes upon me as I have upon you: it cannot be ... 
My dear love, I cannot believe there ever was or ever 
could be anything to admire in me especially as far as 
sight goes I cannot be admired, I am not a thing to be 
admired. You are, I love you; all I can bring to you is a 
swooning admiration of your Beauty. I hold that place 
among Men which snub-nos'd brunettes with meeting 
eyebrows do among women they are trash to me un- 
less I should find one among them with a fire in her heart 
like the one that burns in mine. You absorb me in spite of 
myself you alone: for I look not forward with any 
pleasure to what is call'd being settled in the world; I 
tremble at domestic cares yet for you I would meet 
them, though if it would leave you the happier I would 
rather die than do so. I have two luxuries to brood over in 
my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O 



28o JOHN KEATS 

that I could have possession of them both in the same 
minute. I hate the world : it batters too much the wings of 
my self-will, and would I could take a sweet poison from 
your lips to send me out of it. From no others would I take 
it. I am indeed astonish'd to find myself so careless of all 
cha[r]ms but yours rememb[e]ring as I do the time 
when even a bit of ribband was a matter of interest to me." 

These cannot have been altogether pleasant letters for a 
young girl to receive from the man to whom she was en- 
gaged. Fanny Brawne must have understood Keats very 
well, and loved him greatly, to have stood this sort of 
thing. But all she appears to have done, to judge by Keats's 
references to her answers, was to assure him, again and 
again, of his attractiveness and her continuing love. She 
was not well either, poor girl! But it never seems to have 
entered her ego-centric lover's head that the separation 
was a strain for her as well as for him, and that the letters 
he sent her were anything but soothing. This was the weak 
side of the affair, and the worst side of Keats which we 
know his impenetrable misjudgment of Fanny Brawne. 
All through his correspondence with her, he tells her that 
he loves her, but does no single thing to prove it. He never 
inquires into her concerns, he never seeks to bring her 
pleasure. It is himself of whom he is thinking always 
how their relations affect him, never how they affect her. 
If he could never have been selfish with her in the great 
things of life, he seems seldom to have been anything else 
in the small. Keats was an almost perfect friend, but, alas! 
a most imperfect lover. 

Yet we must not blame him too much, particularly as 
regards his morbidness. He was a very sick man, leading a 
life which, for a consumptive, was nothing short of slow 
suicide. And Fanny Brawne got only the miserable resi- 
due of his vitality, after every ounce of energy he had in 
him had been drained into poetry. The marvel is, not that 
he was completely spent when his daily stint of work was 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 281 

over, but that, with the exception of Otho, which was a 
forced product and should never have been attempted, the 
work itself showed no diminution of power, no least failure 
of either virility or imagination. 

I think we must blame the Gripus fragment (I call it so 
from the name of the chief character) for Brown's having 
conceived the idea of Otho the Great. Undoubtedly he knew 
of the projected musical farce, and felt how unsuited such a 
thing was to Keats's genius. Undoubtedly, also, Keats 
showed him that one completed act when they were safely 
alone together after Rice and Martin had gone. Whether 
it were the thought of it before he joined Keats, or the 
perusal of the act already done, Brown seems to have been 
ready with an alternative plan at once. Perhaps he came 
down with it full-fledged in his head, perhaps it popped 
into his mind while Keats read Gripus to him, perhaps it 
dawned upon him as an aftermath of that event. When- 
ever it came to him, he had a plan, and the plan was this: 
He and Keats should write a poetic tragedy. He, with the 
experience of his one play actually presented five years 
before, would be responsible for the plot, the general 
management of scenes, in short for the purely dramatic 
part of the venture; Keats should supply the poetry. 
Here is how he described the arrangement to Lord 
Houghton : l 

"At Shanklin he undertook a difficult task; I engaged to 
furnish him with the title, characters, and dramatic con- 
duct of a tragedy, and he was to enwrap it in poetry. The 
progress of this work was curious, for while I sat opposite 
to him, he caught my description of each scene entire, 
with the characters to be brought forward, the events, and 
everything to be connected with it. Thus he went on, 
scene after scene, never knowing nor inquiring into the 
scene which was to follow, until four acts were completed. 
It was then he required to know at once all the events 

1 Note by Lord Houghton in the Aldine edition of Keats's works, 1876; 
quoted in Buxton Forman's Complete Edition. 



282 JOHN KEATS 

that were to occupy the fifth act; I explained them to him, 
but, after a patient hearing and some thought, he insisted 
that many incidents in it were too humorous, or, as he 
termed them, too melodramatic. He wrote the fifth act in 
accordance with his own views, and so contented was I 
with his poetry that at the time, and for a long time after, 
I thought he was in the right." 

Keats must have felt himself very inept in the matter of 
drama to have consented to such a scheme. But truly 
there was a sufficient reason for his so doing, and this was 
just that Otho was, in absolute fact, a pot-boiler. He did 
not feel it, it had not lain dormant within him, hatching 
itself into a shape of meaning and beauty. It was an 
extraneous thing to him, a cuckoo's egg dropped into the 
nest of his dreams. This was not true of Lamia. He may 
have begun it just then because he felt he must be writing 
some poetry Gripus, of course, not being a satisfying 
thing to do but he had probably conceived it long be- 
fore, some time during the Winter when he was reading 
Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. In his subconsciousness 
it had remained, and waxed strong, lustrous, and inde- 
pendent, ready to come at a call, or to fall upon him un- 
bidden in no long time if he had not called. 

Exactly when the two friends began this odd collabora- 
tion, we do not know, but they were well into it by Satur- 
day, July thirty-first. "Brown and I are pretty well 
harnessed again to our dog-cart. I mean the Tragedy, 
which goes on sinkingly," Keats informed Dilke in a letter 
of that date. The " again " is disturbing. Does it mean 
that Otho had been begun at Hampstead? I do not believe 
so. I think this is one of the many slips to be found in 
Keats's letters. I believe that the "again" here simply 
means that he and Brown are settled down to living to- 
gether as usual, and that he goes on to the tragedy without 
noticing the possible connection. It is apparent that Dilke 
knew of the tragedy; but this, Brown, who was in constant 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 283 

correspondence with Dilke, may have already written 
about. 

What an excellent companion Brown was, how full of 
amusing resources, how invigorating to Keats, another 
sentence in Keats's letter shows. As this sentence leads to 
a sequel, I give it as it stands: 

"The Art of Poetry is not sufficient for us, and if we get 
on in that as well as we do in painting, we shall by next 
winter crush the Reviews and the Royal Academy. In- 
deed, if Brown would take a little of my advice, he could 
not fail to be the first palet[te] of his day. But odd as it 
may appear, he says plainly that he cannot see any force 
in my plea of putting skies in the background, and leaving 
Indian ink out of an ash tree. The other day he was 
sketching Shanklin Church, and as I saw how the business 
was going on, I challenged him to a trial of skill he lent 
me Pencil and Paper we keep the Sketches to contend 
for the Prize at the Gallery. I will not say whose I think 
best but really I do not think Brown's done to the top 
of the Art." 

The sequel was long in coming, but here it is. In 1922, a 
grand-daughter of Charles Brown, living in New Zealand, 
sent to Sir Sidney Colvin a pencil sketch of Keats made by 
her grandfather, together with an account of its origin 
according to family tradition. The particulars, in Miss 
Brown's words, are these: 

1 "Keats and my grandfather were out sketching to- 
gether; when they came in Keats was a little tired, and he 
half-reclined in a couch or easy chair. My grandfather 
opened his portfolio and made this pencil copy. He was 
pleased with the result and kept it. Then it passed on to 
my father; after his death my mother gave it to me." 

Sir Sidney presented this drawing to the National Por- 
trait Gallery, London, where it now is. At my request, the 

1 Quoted from a paper, A New Portrait of Keats, by Sir Sidney Colvin, 
published in the Observer for Sunday, September 24, 1922. 



284 JOHN KEATS 

directors of the Gallery most courteously sent me a photo- 
graph of the drawing, with permission to reproduce it, and 
this reproduction stands as the frontispiece of this volume. 
To me, this drawing ranks only second to the silhouettes 
in charm. All three attempts are so much more real, more 
human, than any of the other portraits of Keats, that 
their discovery is a godsend to those people who have 
found it very hard to believe that the weak and senti- 
mental youth of Severn's and Hilton's pictures could ever 
have resembled the strong, masculine, and forceful fellow 
that Keats certainly was. The namby-pamby was too 
often confused with the inspirational in the minds of 
mediocre artists in Keats's day. Brown, with his sturdy 
commonsense and devotion to fact, has given us an un- 
idealized likeness of a good-looking and interesting man, 
and he has given us this man under three aspects. How 
faithfully Brown rendered what he saw, will be realized at 
once on comparing the three pictures, for Keats's growing 
weariness, his gradually declining health, is very evident 
if we take them in chronological order. Indeed, it is this 
fact more than any other which has emboldened me to 
hazard the tentative chronology already suggested in the 
consideration of the silhouettes. 1 

Keats's fatigue, in Brown's drawing, is a commentary to 
his letters, and in following him through the Summer we 
must never forget its constant presence, and we must read 
everything except his poetry by the light of it. Keats was 
still able to throw off his inertia where poetry was con- 
cerned. Even in his letters, we can see how, when his in- 
tellect was fairly roused, or his humour sufficiently touched, 
he could be his normal, vital self for a space. But the 
lapses back are all too clear, the sense of futility too con- 
stantly waiting to pounce upon him, the difficulty of any 
intercourse but that of his most intimate friends too in- 
creasing a trial, for any one with the noticing eye to be mis- 

1 See Vol. II, p. 268. 




ffi 

c/] 
h 

ffi 
u 

(S 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 285 

led for a moment as to his real condition. Keats thought, 
and his friends thought, that it was the trend of events 
preying upon him which caused these symptoms; but, 
miserable as these events were, they were not the half, nor 
the quarter, of the trouble. Tuberculosis, and neglected 
tuberculosis at that, is chiefly responsible, and Keats 
could not have helped feeling as he did, no matter in what 
current of events life had chosen to place him. And yet 
I do not wish to over-accentuate all this. Keats was 
still capable of a long and lusty fight, as we are about to 
witness. 

The debilitating climate of the Isle of Wight was be- 
ginning to tell. Keats walked about the country, but, 
while admitting its beauty, admitted also that it did not 
interest him. "I do not hesitate to say it is fine," he tells 
Dilke. " But I have been so many finer walks, with a back 
ground of lake and mountain instead of the sea, that I am 
not much touch'd with it, though I credit it with all the 
Surprise I should have felt if it had taken my cockney 
maidenhead." Keats thought himself blase, surfeited with 
the picturesque; he was not, he was ill. Perhaps Brown 
agreed with him, perhaps only humoured him; at any rate, 
it was decided that they should go away and try some- 
where else. Where, was not yet determined upon. At the 
end of the letter to Dilke, Keats says: "We leave this place 
on the 13 th , and will let you know where we may be a few 
days after." 

That was on Saturday, July thirty-first; by the following 
Thursday, the place had been selected. "This day week 
we shall move to Winchester; for I feel the want of a 
Library," he writes to Fanny Brawne on that day. It was 
time he went. His sensations, as he detailed them later, 
are very convincing: 

" I began to hate the very posts there the voice of the 
old Lady over the way was getting a great Plague. The 
Fisherman's face never altered any more than our black 



286 JOHN KEATS 

teapot the [k]nob however was knocked off to my little 
relief." 

Before taking him from Shanklin, however, I must give 
a few more extracts from his August fifth letter to Fanny 
Brawne. The first is but another illustration of mental 
unrest, and again we see him raking up the old question of 
why Miss Brawne should love him: 

"Thank God for my diligence! were it not for that I 
should be miserable. I encourage it, and strive not to 
think of you but when I have succeeded in doing so all 
day and as far as midnight, you return, as soon as this 
artificial excitement goes off, more severely from the fever 
I am left in. Upon my soul I cannot say what you could 
like me for. I do not think myself a fright any more than I 
do Mr. A., Mr. B., and Mr. C. yet if I were a woman I 
should not like A.B.C. But enough of this. So you intend 
to hold me to my promise of seeing you in a short time. I 
shall keep it with as much sorrow as gladness: for I am not 
one of the Paladins of old who liv'd upon water grass and 
smiles for years together. What though would I not give 
to-night for the gratification of my eyes alone?" 

A pleasant thing this, for Fanny Brawne to dwell upon. 
Only for a little bit of compensation immediately following, 
this must have been a somewhat bitter remark to digest. 
The palliating passage, which comes after his telling her of 
Winchester, is as follows: 

" Brown will leave me there to pay a visit to Mr. Snook 
at Bedhampton : in his absence I will flit to you and back. 
I will stay very little while, for as I am in a train of writing 
now I fear to disturb it let it have its course bad or good 
in it I shall try my own strength and the public pulse. 
At Winchester I shall get your Letters more readily; and 
it being a cathedral City I shall have a pleasure always a 
great one to me when near a Cathedral, of reading them 
during the service up and down the Aisle." 

The next day, Friday, he was distinctly more buoyant; 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 287 

even so much so as to plan their future together, with that 
fine scorn of the usual and humdrum peculiar to his species 
and age. It is a relief to read this passage, and it must have 
been a relief to Fanny Brawne. It was a mercy that he 
wrote the two days' epistles as one letter. This is the 
passage in question: 

"You would delight very greatly in the walks about 
here; the Cliffs, woods, hills, sands, rocks, &c. about here. 
They are however not so fine but I shall give them a hearty 
good bye to exchange them for my Cathedral. Yet 
again I am not so tired of Scenery as to hate Switzerland. 
We might spend a pleasant year at Berne or Zurich if it 
should please Venus to hear my ' Beseech thee to hear us O 
Goddess/ And if she should hear, God forbid we should 
what people call, settle turn into a pond, a stagnant 
Lethe a vile crescent, row or buildings. Better be im- 
prudent moveables than prudent fixtures. Open my 
Mouth at the Street door like the Lion's head at Venice to 
receive hateful cards, letters, messages. Go out and wither 
at tea parties; freeze at dinners; bake at dances; simmer at 
routs. No my love, trust yourself to me and I will find you 
nobler amusements, fortune favouring." 

Before leaving for Winchester, Brown had gone off for a 
couple of days' tramp, "gadding over the country with his 
ancient knapsack," says Keats. It shows how rapidly writ- 
ing and reading were recapturing Keats that he could end 
his letter to Fanny Brawne by saying: 

"Now I like his society as well as any Man's yet re- 
gretted his return it broke in upon me like a Thunder- 
bolt. I had got in a dream among my Books really 
luxuriating in a solitude and silence you alone should have 
disturb'd." 

It seems to have been on August twelfth, as Keats told 
Fanny Brawne, and not the thirteenth, as he had said to 
Dilke, that he and Brown finally pulled up stakes and set 
off for Winchester, going by way of Newport, Cowes, and 



288 JOHN KEATS 

Southampton. If he stopped to consider it on his journey, 
Keats may very well have been not a little proud of the 
work accomplished during the seven and a half weeks he 
had been at Shanklin. Not to count the problematic act 
of GripuSy he had half finished Lamia and completed four 
acts of Otho. 

It was hard to break into his train of thought, but Win- 
chester was an alluring objective. It must have been a 
fine Summer's day for the sail across to Southampton, for 
Keats sent a delightful description of it to Fanny Brawne. 
He makes the scene extremely clear, windy and sunny, and 
what is more, he links it all up for us historically. To- 
gether with Keats and his great preoccupation, a pre- 
occupation entirely apart from locality or date, is the 
Prince Regent, leaving Brighton for an afternoon on the 
water. Faint echoes of bands, visions of promenaders on 
esplanades, of brightly varnished barouches and curricles, 
of spangles, spurs, and uniforms, come to us out of Keats's 
little sketch. He tells it simply with no thought of sugges- 
tion, its patina is the growth of a hundred years. Here is 
the life which Keats never touched, but which makes so 
gay and tawdry a back-drop to his period: 

"One of the pleasantest things I have seen lately was at 
Cowes. The Regent in his Yatch (I think they spell it 1 ) 
was anchored opposite a beautiful vessel and all the 
Yatchs and boats on the coast were passing and repassing 
it; and circuiting and tacking about it in every direction 
I never beheld anything so silent, light, and graceful." 

Reaching Winchester, apparently on Friday, August 
thirteenth, the friends speedily found " tolerably good and 
cheap Lodgings," but they did not find a library. This 
was disappointing, but everything else was pleasant. 
Keats found Winchester "an exceeding pleasant Town, 
enriched with a beautiful Cathedral, and surrounded by a 

1 This spelling was not infrequent in Keats's day. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 289 

fresh-looking country." This he wrote to Bailey after a 
two days' acquaintance with it. The next day, to Fanny 
Brawne, he expressed himself as perfectly satisfied: "This 
Winchester is a fine place . . . The little coffin of a room at 
Shanklin is exchanged for a large room, where I can prom- 
enade at my pleasure looks out onto a beautiful 
blank side of a house. It is strange that I should like it 
better than the view of the sea from our room at Shanklin/' 
And finally, after two weeks, he was fairly in love with it; 
witness this, from a letter to his sister: "we like it very 
much: it is the pleasantest Town I ever was in, and has the 
most recommendations of any." 

But again, Keats was there to work. He had taken the 
bit in his teeth, and told Brown that he would do the fifth 
act of Otho alone; and at it he went. So absorbed was he 
that it was hard to wrench himself away to write letters. 
It is therefore odd that the first letter he wrote was to 
Bailey, to whom he had not written for months and was 
never going to write to again. But that was a letter which 
required very little thought and no emotion at all. It was 
not until the sixteenth l that he could bring himself to 
write to Fanny Brawne. Poor girl, her dark days were 
upon her, as she must soon have discovered. 

This letter was almost brutal almost, but not quite; 
and yet I think ninety-nine girls out of a hundred would 
have considered it so. This is what Fanny Brawne re- 
ceived, to make of it what she could: 

11 MY DEAR GIRL what shall I say for myself? I have 
been here four days and not yet written you 'tis true I 
have had many teasing letters of business to dismiss 
and I have been in the Claws, like a serpent in an Eagle's, 
of the last act of our Tragedy. This is no excuse ; I know it ; 
I do not presume to offer it. I have no right either to ask 
a speedy answer to let me know how lenient you are I 

1 Keats dated the letter "August 17 th ," but it is postmarked "AU. 16 
1819." Author's Collection. 



290 JOHN KEATS 

must remain some days in a Mist I see you through a 
Mist: as I daresay you do me by this time. Believe in the 
first Letters I wrote you: I assure you I felt as I wrote I 
could not write so now. The thousand images I have had 
pass through my brain my uneasy spirits my un- 
guess'd fate all spread as a veil between me and you. 
Remember I have had no idle leisure to brood over you 
'tis well perhaps I have not. I could not have endured the 
throng of jealousies that used to haunt me before I had 
plunged so deeply into imaginary interests. I would fain, 
as my sails are set, sail on without an interruption for a 
Brace of Months longer I am in complete cue in the 
fever; and shall in these four Months do an immense deal. 
This Page as my eye skims over it I see is excessively un- 
loverlike and ungallant I cannot help it I am no 
officer in yawing quarters; no Parson-romeo. My mind is 
heaped to the full ; stuff'd like a cricket ball if I strive to 
fill it more it would burst. I know the generality of women 
would hate me for this; that I should have so unsoften'd, 
so hard a Mind as to forget them; forget the brightest re- 
alities for the dull imaginations of my own Brain. But I 
conjure you to give it a fair thinking; and ask yourself 
whether 'tis not better to explain my feelings to you, than 
write artificial Passion. Besides, you would see through 
it. It would be vain to strive to deceive you. Tis harsh, 
harsh, I know it. My heart seems now made of iron I 
could not write a proper answer to an invitation to Idalia. 
You are my Judge: my forehead is on the ground." 

It appears that Miss Brawne had bridled a little at 
Keats's playful remark in his last letter from Shanklin 
that she meant to keep him to his promise of running up 
to town to see her, for he replies: 

" You say I may do as I please I do not think with any 
conscience I can; my cash resources are for the present 
stopp'd; I fear for some time. I spend no money, but it 
increases my debts. I have all my life thought very little 
of these matters they seem not to belong to me. It may 
be a proud sentence ; but by Heaven I am as entirely above 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 291 

all matters of interest as the Sun is above the Earth and 
though of my own money I should be careless; of my 
Friends' I must be spare. You see how I go on like so 
many strokes of a hammer. I cannot help it I am im- 
pell'd, driven to it. I am not happy enough for silken 
Phrases, and silver sentences. I can no more use soothing 
words to you than if I were at this moment engaged in a 
charge of Cavalry." 

In truth, the expression was a just one. The writing of 
Otho called for much the same qualities as a charge of 
cavalry would have done: grit and vigour. He was writing 
against time, forcing himself on and on, looking neither to 
the right nor the left, keeping all his faculties pointed on 
his objective. Lamia, which was his own and which he 
wanted to do, was as much pushed aside as was Fanny 
Brawne. He was "engaged in a charge of cavalry/' there 
is the answer to the letter. How necessary this concentra- 
tion was to him at the moment becomes apparent at the end 
of the letter. He was as he was, because things were as they 
were. This is the final paragraph: 

" Forgive me for this flint-worded Letter, and believe 
and see that I cannot think of you without some sort of 
energy though mal propos. Even as I leave off it 
seems to me that a few more moments 1 thought of you 
would uncrystallize and dissolve me. I must not give way 
to it but turn to my writing again if I fail I shall die 
hard. O my love, your lips are growing sweet again to my 
fancy I must forget them. Ever your affectionate 

KEATS." 

It had to be, perhaps. Perpetual longing perpetually 
denied was too wracking; he felt it impossible to bear. Is 
it to his credit, or the reverse, that he could put the thought 
of Fanny Brawne away from him and immerse himself in 
his writing? That is a question impossible to answer with- 
out taking all the many factors of the case into due con- 
sideration. Probably the fairest judgment one can accord 



292 JOHN KEATS 

him is to say that he was mercilessly selfish, but that he 
was also in a terrible situation, pathological in mind and 
body, tortured and seeking to escape torture through the 
opiate of work. I think, at this time, that his withdrawal 
from Fanny Brawne was intended to be only transient; 
later I believe that it became deliberate with a view to be- 
coming final, but that we need not discuss now. Miss 
Brawne heard no more from him for a month, which must 
have been nothing short of ghastly for her. He protected 
himself at her expense, that is the amount of it, and the 
only possible excuse for him is that he acted through 
ignorance. That a woman could love as sharply and in- 
cisively as a man, was something he could never be made to 
believe, and his obstinacy caused him much suffering. 

The "teasing letters of business" all harked back to 
George. Already, in Shanklin, he had received a letter 
from George begging him to see Abbey and squeeze some 
money out of him if possible. Keats wrote and wrote again, 
but Abbey was in an awkward fix and no money was forth- 
coming. 

While all this turmoil was going on in the mind of the 
driven young fellow in Winchester, things, and even 
pleasant things, were going on about him elsewhere. Sir 
James Mackintosh had written to Taylor on July nine- 
teenth: "Have you any other literary novelties in verse? 
I very much admire your young poet with all his singula- 
rities. Where is he? and what high design does he medi- 
tate?" This is a little thing, but Sir James Mackintosh 
was a man of considerable force and position. This next 
is a little thing too, but how great a devotion it shows. 
Toward the end of August, Taylor went to Retford in 
Nottinghamshire on a visit to his father. Before going, he 
asked Woodhouse to send him a copy of the Pot of Basil so 
that he might read it to his family. In an undated letter * 

1 Unpublished letter from Woodhouse to Taylor. Woodhouse Book. 
Morgan Collection. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 293 

to him, Woodhouse voices their joint opinion of the 
poem: 

" I bethought me on Saturday of my promise about Isa- 
bella, and took the earliest opportunity ... of enquiring 
whether you had left out the Book in which she was to be 
copied : but without the least idea that you had done so. 
However, William found it, and I have copied the Basil 
pot in it & given it ... to Hessey along with this letter to 
forward to you . . . Recollect that this is the 4*h time I 
have written it over, recollect also that I could say it by 
heart with about 5 promptings; and if, as really was the 
case, I went through it with more pleasure than ever, one 
of two conclusions is inevitable: either that it is a noble 
poem, or that my judgement is not worth the tythe of a 
fig. And I am quite content to be set down for a dolt in the 
opinion of that man who should deny the first of the above 
alternatives. May those to whom you show the poem de- 
rive as much gratification from it as I did." 

Meantime Otho the Great marched on to a conclusion. 
We have no more letters for a week, and by that time the 
play was finished. 

Otho is, after all, a hybrid performance. It would have 
been impossible for any man to write a play of unity, 
balance, and psychological interest, when he had no idea 
of its general trend to start with, and no clear conception 
of the characters, whose actions throughout came upon 
him piecemeal. If Keats had not been so impressed with 
the idea that he must make money, if Brown had not been 
so convinced that the stage was his friend's surest means 
of doing so, if Keats had not been so docile nor Brown so 
self-confident, Otho would never have been begun. As it is, 
the tragedy was time wasted. The precious weeks spent 
in grinding it out might have given us another story as 
good as Lamia or the fragment of the Eve of St. Mark, 
indeed, the nonfinishing of the latter tale is one of the 
greatest misfortunes of Keats's life. 



294 JOHN KEATS 

Taken from every point of view, Otho is a failure. It is 
dull beyond belief, it is unnatural, perfervid, and weak. 
The verse is of the type which any capable rhymester can 
turn out by the yard. Not once in the whole play is there 
a turn of phrase, a trick of expression, a flash of genius, to 
remind us that the tragedy is by Keats. It is hack work 
of the most glaring variety. Nearly every page is marred 
by verbal echoes from some poet or other; even the plot is 
pieced together from this or that familiar play, although as, 
until the fifth act, Brown was responsible for this part of 
the production, that need not concern us here. For all 
these tides of reminiscence, I must refer my readers to other 
books; 1 it is enough to note their existence in this. The 
fifth act is more dramatic than the rest of the play. 
Ludolph's insanity, although over-hysterical and chatter- 
ing in its portrayal, occasionally touches upon a human 
emotion, some slight suggestion of pathos, a little genuine 
feeling. Possibly Kean, for whom Keats designed the play, 
could have made Ludolph convincing in this last act; but 
even Kean would have been taxed to his utmost to keep 
any audience interested during the first four. To be sure, 
audiences in Keats's day put up with a good deal of this 
sort of stuff. To a modern reader, Otho is inconceivably 
dreary and stupid, and the best comment on its acting 
qualities may be found in the fact that it has never been 
presented on any stage. Its history, so far as Keats and 
Brown were concerned, was one long disappointment, but 
the disappointment did not fall upon them all at once, as we 
shall see. Keats could not believe that what he had worked 
so hard at was really extremely poor. For once he was 
deceived as to the quality of one of his own things. He, 
and we may suppose some of his friends also, believed what 

1 The principal books in which these parallels may be traced are The 
Poetical Works of John Keats, edited by E. de S61incourt, Fourth Edition; 
and the unpublished thesis: Shakespeare and Keats, by Claude L. Finney, 
in the Widener Library, Harvard University. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 295 

they wished to believe, and it was a long time before the 
poverty of the work was borne in upon them. Severn, for 
one, believed in the play till the end of the chapter, which 
was loyal, but not perspicacious. 

At this point, I am enabled, through a concatenation of 
circumstances, to give several hitherto unpublished letters 
which throw much light on Keats's doings and thoughts 
during the end of August and the early weeks of Septem- 
ber. From letters of Keats, Woodhouse, Taylor, and 
Brown, all taken in conjunction, we gain a very vivid 
picture of these weeks. I make no scruple, therefore, of 
quoting from this correspondence at some length. 

The first letter is from Keats. It was published (prob- 
ably from a copy) in a mutilated condition by Buxton 
Forman. As so much was left out in his version, I give the 
letter 1 entire: 

"Winchester Monday morn 

24 Aug" t2 
MY DEAR TAYLOR 

You will perceive that I do not write you till I am forced 
by necessity: that I am sorry for. You must forgive me for 
entering abruptly on the subject, merely prefixing an 
entreaty that you will not consider my business manner 
of wording and proceeding any distrust of, or standing 
against you ; but put it to the account of a desire of order 
and regularity. I have been rather unfortunate lately in 
money concerns from a threatened chancery suit. I 
was deprived at once of all recourse to my Guardian. I 
relied a little on some of my debts being paid which are 
of a tolerable amount but I have not had one pound re- 
funded. For these three months Brown has advanced me 
money: he is not at all flush and I am anxious to get some 
elsewhere. We have together been engaged (this I should 
wish to remain secret) in a Tragedy which I have just 
finished; and from which we hope to share moderate 
Profits. Being thus far connected, Brown proposed to me, 

1 Author's Collection. 

2 Monday was August 23rd. Keats seldom knew the day of the month. 



296 JOHN KEATS 

to stand with me responsible for any money you may 
advance to me to drive through the summer. I must ob- 
serve again that it is not from want of reliance on you[r] 
readiness to assist me that I offer a Bill ; but as a relief to 
myself from a too lax sensation of Life which ought to 
be responsible which requires chains for its own sake 
duties to fulfil with the more earnestness the less strictly 
they are imposed. Were I completely without hope it 
might be different but am I not right to rejoice in the 
idea of not being Burthensome to my friends? I feel every 
confidence that if I choose I may be a popular writer; that 
I never will be; but for all that I will get a livelihood. I 
equally dislike the favour of the public with the love of a 
woman they are both a cloying treacle to the wings of 
independence. I shall ever consider them (People) as 
debtors to me for verses, not myself to them for admiration 
which I can do without. I have of late been indulging 
my spleen by composing a preface at them: after all resolv- 
ing never to write a preface at all. 'There are so many 
verses/ would I have said to them, give me so much means 
to buy pleasure with as a relief to my hours of labour. You 
will observe at the end of this if you put down the Letter 
4 How a solitary life engenders pride and egotism ! ' True : I 
know it does but this Pride and egotism will enable me 
to write finer things than anything else could so I will 
indulge it. Just so much as I am humbled by the genius 
above my grasp, am I exalted and look with hate and con- 
tempt upon the literary world. A Drummer boy who holds 
out his hand familiarly to a field marshal that Drummer 
boy with me is the good word and favour of the public. 
Who would wish to be among the commonplace crowd of the 
little-famous who are each individually lost in a throng 
made up of themselves? is this worth louting or playing the 
hypocrite for? To beg suffrages for a seat on the benches of 
a myriad-aristocracy of Letters? This is not wise I am 
not a wise man. Tis Pride. I will give you a definition of a 
proud Man. He is a Man who has neither vanity nor 
wisdom one fill'd with hatreds cannot be vain neither 
can he be wise. Pardon me for hammering instead of 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 297 

writing. Remember me to Woodhouse, Hessey and all in 
Percy street. 

Ever yours sincerely 
JOHN KEATS. 

P.S. I have read what Brown has said on the other side 
He agrees with me that this manner of proceeding might 
appear too harsh, distant and indelicate with you. This 
however will place all in a clear light. Had I to borrow 
money of Brown and were in your house, I should request 
the use of your name in the same manner." 

The "doublings" of this letter are taken up with a note 
to Taylor from Brown, as follows: 

"DEAR SIR, 

Keats has told me the purport of this letter. Had it been 
in my power to have prevented this application to you, I 
would have done so. What property I have is locked up, 
sending me quarterly & half yearly driblets, insufficient 
for the support of both of us. I am fully acquainted with 
his circumstances, the monies owing to him amount to 
230, the chancery suit will not I think eventually be 
injurious to him, and his perseverance in the employ- 
ment of his talents, will, in my opinion, in a short time, 
place him in a situation more pleasant to his feelings as far 
as his pocket is concerned. Yet, for all this, I am aware, a 
man of business should have every security in his power, 
and Keats especially would be uncomfortable at borrowing 
unless he gave all in his power; besides his own name to a 
Bill he has now to offer but mine, which I readily agree to, 
and (speaking in a business-like way) consider I possess 
ample security for doing so. It is therefore to be considered 
as a matter of right on your part to demand my name in 
conjunction with his; and if you should be inclined to judge 
otherwise, still it would be painful to him not to give you a 
double security when he can do so, & painful to me to have 
it withheld when it ought to be given. 

Yours sincerely, 

CHA S BROWN." 



298 JOHN KEATS 

Keats, as we have noticed before, 1 was not skilful in the 
composition of begging letters. It was one thing to ask the 
return of a loan, but quite another to approach someone on 
whom he had no possible claim. It hurt his pride to do it, 
and with the worst possible taste he allowed his pride to 
grow mile high, because of its very injury, until it quite 
over-topped whatever other sentiments the letter con- 
tained. Taylor was not in Fleet Street when this remark- 
able epistle arrived, he was at his father's at Retford, so 
the letter was forwarded. This occasioned some delay, and 
his subsequent correspondence with Woodhouse on the 
subject caused more. Meanwhile Keats, having posted 
his request, sat down to wait, with what composure he 
could muster. 

On Wednesday, August twenty-fifth, he wrote to Rey- 
nolds in much the same strain that he had written to Taylor. 
He declares himself convinced of his power to become a 
popular writer, but with a fine gesture refuses " the poison- 
ous suffrage of a public." But to Reynolds he can expand, 
and he does. After suggesting to Reynolds that Rice, to 
whom he has just written, 2 will tell Reynolds all about the 
removal from Shanklin, and how he, Keats, likes Win- 
chester, he continues: "I have indeed scarcely anything 
else to say . . . except I was to give you a history of sensa- 
tions, and day-nightmares. " He is willing to go so far as 
to announce: 

"my thoughts and feelings which are of the selfish nature, 
home speculations, every day continue to make me more 
iron I am convinced more and more, every day, that 
fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world ; 
the Paradise Lost becomes a greater wonder." 

Keats is both encouraged and as blue as indigo, and 
these two sensations are simultaneous, or so nearly so that 
I doubt if he himself could disentangle them. The last 

1 See Vol. I, p. 464. 2 This letter appears to be lost. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 299 

half of the letter is taken up with this pathetic bit of self- 
revelation: 

"The soul is a world of itself, and has enough to do in its 
own home. Those whom I know already, and who have 
grown as it were a part of myself, I could not do without: 
but for the rest of mankind, they are as much a dream to 
me as Milton's Hierarchies. I think if I had a free and 
healthy and lasting organization of heart, and lungs as 
strong as an ox's, so as to be able to bear unhurt the shock 
of extreme thought and sensation without weariness, I 
could pass my life very nearly alone though it should last 
eighty years. But I feel my body too weak to support me 
to the height, I am obliged continually to check myself, 
and be nothing. It would be vain for me to endeavour after 
a more reasonable manner of writing to you. I have 
nothing to speak of but myself, and what can I say but 
what I feel? If you should have any reason to regret this 
state of excitement in me, I will turn the tide of your feel- 
ings in the right Channel, by mentioning that it is the only 
state for the best sort of Poetry that is all I care for, all 
I live for. Forgive me for not filling up the whole sheet; 
Letters become so irksome to me, that the next time I 
leave London I shall petition them all to be spared me. To 
give me credit for constancy, and at the same time waive 
letter writing will be the highest indulgence I can think of." 

What a different man is this from the gregarious young 
fellow of two and a half years before, of Hunt's parlour 
and Haydon's studio! That he felt himself to be ill, is 
quite evident, and that he found absence from Fanny 
Brawne such a strain that his only way of combating it 
was to try and smother the thought of her by any means 
in his power. Keats's diagnosis of his mental state was 
wrong, so much we can be very sure from his comparative 
peace and happiness in April and May when he and Miss 
Brawne were seeing each other daily. In remembrance, 
this seemed a time of aroused desires constantly thwarted, 
and as such he feared not only to face it, but to think of it. 



300 JOHN KEATS 

But retrospective memories are liable to strange distor- 
tions. As he had lived those months, they had given him 
much besides misery. Now he had forgotten, and was 
almost consciously pushing himself into the conviction 
that poetry was enough for him, which, as the sequel 
shows, it most emphatically was not. He was self-deceived 
in perfect good faith, it is true, but a poor dupe neverthe- 
less, and an immolated victim of symptoms which neither 
he nor any one else had the wit to assign to their real cause. 

To add its quota to the cloudy outlook, he and Brown 
heard a rumour that Kean was to go to America for the 
Winter. If so, what would happen to the tragedy? This 
news descended upon them just as Brown was copying 
Otho " in a superb style better than it deserves." " I had 
hoped to give Kean another opportunity to shine," he tells 
his sister with wry humour. " What can we do now ? There 
is not another actor of Tragedy in all London or Europe. 
The Covent Garden Company is execrable." There was 
nothing to do, so far as the tragedy went, but for Brown 
to continue to copy it; and nothing for Keats to do but set 
himself to work on Lamia, and saunter round Winchester 
in "the delightful Weather we have had for two Months." 
As for his walks, "a Mile a day" was, he declared "quite 
sufficient," still he regretted not having " been well enough 
to bathe though I have been two Months by the sea and 
live now close to delicious bathing." Yes, there was one 
other thing he could do, which was to count his ebbing 
store of shillings and pence every day and wonder why on 
earth Taylor did not answer. 

The reason for Taylor's silence was that he could not 
make up his mind just what course to take. He did not like 
the tone of Keats's letter it would have been miraculous 
if he had and he feared to make a hasty decision. Know- 
ing himself of a much less understanding and conciliatory 
temper than his friend Woodhouse, and realizing Wood- 
house's deep sympathy with Keats, Taylor, who must have 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 301 

been an unusually temperate and just man, sent the ques- 
tionable letter to Woodhouse and asked his opinion. 
Taylor's letter has not come to light, but Woodhouse's 
reply 1 to it has. I quote those parts of it which refer to 
Keats. It is dated: "Temple, Tuesday Evg. 31, Augt 
1819." 

"Though I have let a post elapse, I apprehend this letter, 
which will go in a parcel to you, will reach you as soon as 
Keats's answer. I have read his Letter; and I did it before 
I had read yours, and with my usual disposition to under- 
stand his terms in that sense in which he uses them. Now 
I apprehend his word Pride to mean nothing more than 
literary Pride, that disposition which arises out of a 
Consciousness of superior & improving poetical Powers, & 
which would keep him, even in his present state of compar- 
ative imperfectness, from writing so as to minister to the 
depraved taste of the age. It is not in my opinion personal 
pride, but literary pride which his letter shews; That he 
has some of the former also, I believe; But his letter does 
not evince it, further than as it displays a solitary spirit. 
The Pride contained in his letter, as I understand it, is a 
noble pride, akin to that Indication which Milton pours 
forth in language of such "solemn tenour & deep organ 
tone" at the beginning of his 2 d book on "the reason of 
Ch. Government." and for which I honor him. And I am 
not quite certain whether your Post Script was not added 
in consequence of a new ray of light breaking in upon you 
on this subject. Is he wrong to be dissatisfied with the 
Prospect of a mere 'Seat on the Bench of a myriad- 
aristocracy in Letters'? or to keep aloof from them and 
their works, or to dislike the favor of such a * public,' 
as bepraises the Crabbes, & the Barretts, & the Codruses 
of the day. I wonder how he came to stumble upon that 
deep truth that ' people are debtors to him for his verses & 
not he to them for admiration . ' Methinks such a conviction 
on any one's mind is enough to make half a Milton of him. 

I agree with you in every syllable you say about Pride. 
But I do not think it applies to Keats, as he shews himself 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



302 JOHN KEATS 

in his letter. And if you were to cull out a person upon 
whom to fit your summary of the whole (neither self praise 
nor man's praise can turn the scale either way, nor can 
unmerited neglect or censure weight a feather) I think, as 
far as Poetry is concerned, that very man would be Keats 
as evidenced in his letter. 

Having complied with your wish of telling you what I 
thought of his letter, I come now to his request. I doubt 
whether he will want so much as you mention. I appre- 
hend so or 6o would suffice him, but this his next letter 
will shew. I think I mentioned to you how I was situated 
as to Cash, that I had scraped all I could together, to pay 
my Father, whose two calls lately had run him close. That 
I expected nothing till winter, and had made my calcu- 
lation upon wanting little till that time. Under these 
circumstances I could not command 100. But I can 
spare 50. which shall be at your disposal, at what time & 
place you think proper. You are well acquainted with my 
good wishes towards Keats, as well as with their complete 
disinterestedness. Whatever People regret that they could 
not do for Shakespeare or Chatterton, because he did not 
live in their time, that I would embody into a Rational 
principle, and (with due regard to certain expediences) do 
for Keats. But one's means are not unlimited, and one 
would not wish to give rise to expectations, which should 
end in disappointment, nor would one like to have the oats 
eaten by other cattle. I wish he could be cured of the vice 
of lending for in a poor man, it is a vice. 

I think with you about the offer of Brown's name, and 
about the nonsense of the note. But would it be or not 
beneficial to K. that it should be taken? And is any part of 
the money to go to Brown? The sum will perhaps enable 
you to judge. 

Hessey spoke about Keats's letter, & wants, & quoted 
your intimation to him, so that I could not do less than 
say he should see the letter. He will not ' peach' about the 
Tragedy, and there is no other secret in it. I think to shew 
him your letter too. Perhaps he may think with me, and 
contrary to you, that the obligation to K. may prove 
beneficial to 'the business.' 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 303 

I can say nothing about what is best to be done, for K. I 
am tempest tost on the subject, and even with the light of 
his next letter I may be as much in the dark. I think (and 
you need not make a bow for the compliment) that you 
are the prudenter man of the two, to judge in this case. 
But take this with you. I st I really can't spare more 'as in 
presenti,' than the sum I have named. And 2 d my friend- 
ship for the poor fellow wo d willingly go, if need is, greater 
lengths than merely lending you money to lend him. 

I shall be out of town in about 10 days, but I can send 
you (or Hessey) a draft from any place . . . 

I like Brown's few lines much." 

At the end of the letter, Woodhouse says: 

"Reynolds is off, but before he went he called and left 
me the Sonnet and a letter he had received from Keats. 
I send it to you: It will be a Comment on parts of his to 
you." 

The sonnet cannot be traced, it may not have been by 
Keats at all; the letter to Reynolds is most certainly the 
one from which I have just quoted. 

It appears from this letter as though Woodhouse thought 
that Taylor had written something to Keats without 
waiting for his, Woodhouse's, reply, but Taylor seems to 
have been too cautious for that. Keats waited for over a 
week and no answer came. No answer came from any of 
the letters he had written, even the Examiner ceased to 
arrive, and he and Brown relied on that for information 
about Kean's plans. By Tuesday, August thirty-first, 1 he 
could stand it no longer and wrote to Taylor again. 

This letter is also mutilated in the Buxton Forman 
editions, and even in the unmutilated part is incorrect, 
but as these textual inaccuracies are slight, I will quote 
only the last part of the letter, most of which is published 
for the first time. I copy from the letter 2 itself: 

1 Keats dated the letter "Sept. i, 1819," but there are two postmarks 
on it, one "AU. 31, 1819," the other "SE. I, 1819." 

2 Author's Collection. 



304 JOHN KEATS 

"Why I should come on you with all these complaints, 
I cannot explain to myself: especially as I suspect you 
must be in the Country. Do answer me soon for I really 
must know something. I must steer myself by the rudder 
of Information. And I am in want of a Month's cash 
now believe me I do not apply to you as if I thought you 
had a gold Mine: no I understand these matters well 
enough now having become well acquainted with the dis- 
bursements every Man is tempted to make beyond his 
means. From this time I have resolved myself to refuse 
all such requests: tell me you are not flush and I shall 
thank you heartily. That is a duty you owe to yourself as 
well as to me I have mulcted Brown to[o] much : let it be 
my last sin of the kind. I will try what use it will be to 
insist on my debts being paid/' 

Before Taylor had a chance to receive this, he had acted 
by writing to Woodhouse that he thought fifty pounds 
might be appropriated to Keats, but only thirty sent him, 
and by writing to Keats to expect a remittance. Wood- 
house is our informant about the transaction, for he wrote 
to Taylor on Tuesday, the seventh, as follows: 

1 " I was favoured with your last on Saturday, & saw off 
a Bk.p. Bill for so to Keats. Hessey holds the rest at his 
disposal. The funds of this Beaumont & Fletcher pair . . . 
were at a low, verily at a silver, ebb. But, with your 
supply, there came an announcement that some Cash had 
gone to Chichester, by mistake, in payment of one of the 
Debts due to K. so that he was quite flush." 

It was certainly generous of Woodhouse to call it "your 
supply" to Taylor, when it was his own money all the 
time. Woodhouse's delicacy in realizing that it would be 
easier for Keats to accept a loan from his publishers than 
from him was admirable. One likes Woodhouse more and 
more the better one knows him. And his generosity did not 
stop here, he made plans. Later in this letter, he says: 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 305 

" If my plans for the Summer were not laid past altera- 
tion ; I wod go upon a poetical spree : into France to pick up 
bits of Provencal & old Poetry etc. Or wo d it not be better 
to 'miser it* till next Summer so as to afford to take J.K. 
with me and should you like to trust your personage 
with us? But we have plenty of time to think of it." 

Time! Time! There was no time, already it was too late. 
But what a pity that circumstances might not have given 
Keats this spree and with these men. 

The letter from which Woodhouse got the information 
which he handed on to Taylor was one written by Keats to 
Hessey. 1 It has never been printed, so I give it in full. 

"Winchester, Sunday Sept. 5th. 
MY DEAR HESSEY, 

I received this morning yours of yesterday enclosing a 
3o bank post bill. I have been in fear of the Winchester 
Jail for some time: neither Brown nor myself could get an 
answer from any one. This morning I hear that some un- 
known part of a Sum due, to me and for which I had been 
waiting three weeks has been sent to Chichester by mis- 
take. Brown has borrowed money of a friend of his in 
Hampshire. A few days ago we had a few shillings left 
and now between us we have 6o besides what is waiting 
in the Chichester post office. To be a complete Midas I 
suppose some one will send me a pair of asses ears by the 
waggon. There has been such an embargo laid on our 
correspondence that I can scarcely believe your letter was 
only dated yesterday. It seems miraculous. 

Ever yours sincerely, 
JOHN KEATS 

I am sorry to hear such a bad account of himself from 
Taylor." 

The man who had sent the money to Chichester was 
Haslam, who was paying back part of a sum formerly 
borrowed of George. 

1 Author's Collection. 



306 JOHN KEATS 

On this same Sunday, Keats wrote again, in duty bound, 
to Taylor. The information that Taylor was far from well, 
set Keats off upon a dissertation which might almost be 
called medical. The man who could so interest himself in a 
scientific subject might surely have turned his attention to 
science if other things had not claimed him even more im- 
periously. In dealing with Keats, one must always re- 
member that, with him, it was never other things less, but 
simply poetry more. If legend were all we had to test his 
quality, this fact alone would prove him among the major 
poets. Because this passage is important as an illustration 
of one side of his nature, his mind, I quote a part of it here: 

lU You will find the country air do more for you than 
you expect. But it must be proper country air ... You 
should live in a dry, gravelly, barren, elevated country 
open to the currents of air, and such a place is generally 
furnished with the finest springs. The neighbourhood of a 
rich inclosed fulsome arable Land especially in a val- 
ley and almost as bad on a flat, would be almost as bad 
as the smoke of fleet street. Such a place as this was 
shanklin only open to the south east and surrounded by 
hills in every other direction. From this south east came 
the damps from the sea which having no egress the air 
would for days together take on an unhealthy idiosyncrasy 
altogether enervating and weakening as a city Smoke 
I felt it very much. Since I have been at Winchester I 
have been improving in health it is not so confined 
and there is on one side of the city a dry chalky down 
where the air is worth sixpence a pint. So if you do not get 
better at Retford do not impute it to your own weakness 
before you have well considered the nature of the air and 
soil." 

This leads on to a consideration of the effects of agri- 
culture on character, in which, however, we will not follow 
him. A little later, he thanks Taylor for coming to his aid, 
and has the grace to say: "Had I known of your illness 

1 Corrected from the original letter. Author's Collection. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 307 

I should not have written in such fiery phrase in my first 
letter." One sentence at the end of this letter is arresting, 
he has been speaking of Otho which he hopes Taylor "will 
not think labour misspent," and adds: 

" Since I finish 'd it I have finish 'd Lamia: and am now 
occupied in revising St. Agnes' Eve ... I will cross the 
letter with some lines from Lamia. " 

Lamia is commonly spoken of as having been written at 
the same time as Otho y dove-tailing in with it, as it were. 
But a careful study of the letters makes it evident that this 
was not the case. Part I of Lamia was finished before 
Brown's arrival at Shanklin, and from the moment of the 
starting upon Otho Keats devoted himself entirely to the 
tragedy until it was done, only after that returning to his 
neglected poem. But he returned to it with such zest as to 
accomplish the three hundred odd lines of Part II in short 
order. 

About one thing we must make no mistake; Lamia was 
certainly planned, or, at least, registered as a possible 
subject for a narrative poem, before Keats left Hampstead. 
He had even talked about it with Reynolds, as is proved by 
his mention of it in his letter from Shanklin as something 
which Reynolds had already heard of. Realizing this, we 
need not be surprised that the form of the poem is some- 
what different from anything he had attempted before; it 
came as the tag end of his experimental orgy, and was 
conceived as another experiment. In this instance, the 
experiment was one of form. Keats was not striking out 
any new paths, he was merely permitting himself a stroll on 
someone else's property where he had not happened to 
wander before. Brown told Lord Houghton that Keats 
wrote Lamia "with great care after much study of Dryden's 
versification." Commenting on this, Professor de Selin- 
court has written: l "The versification is closely modelled 

1 The Poems of John Keats, edited by E. de Selincourt. 



3 o8 JOHN KEATS 

upon the Fables of Dryden, from which Keats learnt how to 
relate his metre with his sentence structure and to use both 
the triplet and the Alexandrine with striking success." Pro- 
fessor de S61incourt's "striking success" is, I think, a little 
too strong. Keats sometimes employs these devices hap- 
pily, but at other times his use of them is decidedly clumsy. 
The effect of a triplet, or an alexandrine, breaking into a 
block of heroic couplets is to bring a sense of pause, even 
amounting sometimes to a definite feeling of finality, to the 
passage so treated. To use either of these devices when 
no such effect is intended, mars the consecutive flow of the 
passage in which they appear and injures its rhythm. Too 
often in Lamia we find Keats committing this blunder. 
This is due to his inexpertness in handling a very valuable 
rhythmical contrivance with which he is not yet quite fa- 
miliar. Lamia is a tempting study to the technician, but 
I must not let myself be beguiled into anything of the 
sort here. There are other, more important, aspects of the 
poem to consider just now. 

The source of Lamia, we know. Keats wrote it at the end 
of the first page of his fair copy of the poem, which is still 
in existence. 1 He ran across the story in Burton's Anatomy 
of Melancholy, and, strangely enough, it is one of the only 
two stories throughout that work which lend themselves to 
poetical treatment. Having stumbled on his plot, Keats 
found it enormously to his liking in the temper he was in. 
It deals with the crushing effect of reality when brought 
into conflict with dream. What if Lamia were an en- 
chantress, what if her true form were that of a snake, what 
if her gifts were illusion, is it not better to dwell in igno- 
rance and illusion, if these things bring happiness, than to 
see by the cold, cruel, stark light of truth? We need not 
scoff at the question, for is it not, after all, rather difficult 
to answer? Remember Keats's Paolo and Francesca 
dream, and how he had longed to dream it every night; 
1 Bemis Collection. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 



309 



remember the soothing vision which the nightingale's song 
had brought him. He was encompassed by dangers and 
difficulties in his waking life, but dreaming was his heritage; 
should he, must he, eschew it, must he play the scornful, 
keen-eyed philosopher to his own imaginative joys? He 
solves nothing in his tale, unless the fact that Lycius dies is 
a solution. But even here the question persists, for is the 
death of Lycius due to the fact that he has discovered 
Lamia's true status, or simply the result of her being torn 
from him ? Keats has no answer to give, the puzzle is as 
much his as his readers'. 

I have dealt with the substratum of the poem first, but 
we must not forget the superstructure. On the surface, 
Lamia is a story, a very captivating and excellent story. 
And it is a story of Greece, that charming Elizabethan con- 
ception of Greece which always enchanted Keats. With 
Dryden as a distantly related godfather to his undertaking, 
Keats boldly steps into his tale. The speed with which 
he narrates it is something new to him. It owes much of its 
success to its briefness and swiftness, and even its odd 
lapses back into the sentimentality of his early work, re- 
grettable though these are, cannot take away from the 
firmness and solidity which is a marked effect of the direct- 
ness of the whole. 

Lamia is by no means such a marvel of homogeneous 
treatment as the Eve of St. Agnes; it is no such perfection of 
evocative reticence as the fragment of the Eve of St. Mark. 
It stands midway in his stories, and seems to tie his younger 
and his older selves together by including within it bits 
of both. It speaks volumes for the excellent poetry of a 
great deal of it, and the dramatic quality of the whole, that, 
in spite of the lapses of which I have spoken, the interest in 
it never even so much as wavers throughout. Certain lines 
of the poem are in Keats's best and most original vein. For 
instance, when Lamia arrives near Corinth: 



3 io JOHN KEATS 

". . . There she stood 
About a young bird's flutter from a wood." 

Or this, when he is speaking of the city: 

" As men talk in a dream, so Corinth all, 
Throughout her palaces imperial, 
And all her populous streets and temples lewd, 
Mutter'd, like tempest in the distance brew'd, 
To the wide-spreaded night above her towers." 

Or the mention of the passers-by in the streets, who 
"Shuffled their sandals o'er the pavement white." 

Keats knew the excellent effect of his "shuffled"; he 
employed it again in the Eve of St. Mark. 

Nowhere has Keats used his extraordinary sense of colour 
with more skill than in Lamia. What could be better than 
this description of the serpent? 

"She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, 
Vermillion-spotted, golden, green, and blue; 
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, 
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd ; 
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed, 
Dissolv'd, or brighter shone, or interwreathed 
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries 
So rain-bow sided, touch 'd with miseries, 

Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire 
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne's tiar." 

Here is another passage, where the reflection of a bright 
light in polished marble is exactly evoked by one miracu- 
lous epithet: 

"A pillar'd porch, with lofty portal door, 
Where hung a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow 
Reflected in the slabbed steps below, 
Mild as a star in water." 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 311 

For the mingling of line with colour, as well as an illustra- 
tion of Keats's keen sense of proportion, the description of 
the banqueting-hall is exceptionally fine even when we 
compare it to his other work of the sort. It should be read 
first for pleasure, but afterwards with an eye for these 
qualities, since the passage reveals its full beauty only 
when we take note of them. 

As a postscript to this Sunday letter to Taylor, Keats 
wrote: "Brown is going to Chister and Bedhampton a 
visiting. I shall be alone here for three weeks." It was 
probably on Monday or Tuesday that Brown started off on 
what purported to be a visit to old Mr. Dilke and the 
Snooks. He did go to both these places, but he went some- 
where else too, and of this somewhere he told Keats nothing, 
indeed there is every reason to believe that he never told 
him. It was during this three weeks that he went over to 
Ireland and contracted the illegal marriage with Abigail 
Donohue. 1 Why Brown did not confide in Keats is obvious; 
Keats was an unusually honourable man, and he would 
never have countenanced Brown's dastardly behaviour. 
He would either have made Brown marry the woman in 
earnest or have broken with him for good; he had broken 
with Bailey for far less. What a blow like this would have 
meant to Keats at this juncture, it is horrible to think; and 
yet to know him so much cheated in the quality of his friend 
is very unpleasant also. Brown's other friends, who learnt 
of this episode in his life much later, after Keats's death, 
forgave him; perhaps there were extenuating circumstances 
in the character of the woman and Brown's ethical tenets. 
Still it is hard to look with a kindly eye on his cowardice in 
regard to Keats, who was always so open with him. 

On the Friday after writing to Taylor, Keats received an 
alarming letter from George. It contained the dire news 
that George's worst fears were realized, the boat had been 

1 See Vol. I, p. 471. From an Unpublished Memoir by his son, C. A. 
Brown. Day Collection. 



JOHN KEATS 

traced to the bottom of the Ohio River and all the money 
which George had taken away with him was definitely 
gone. A certain Mr. Bakewell, a Louisville acquaintance, 
had lent him money for temporary needs, but his financial 
affairs would be a total wreck if his share of Tom's portion 
of their joint patrimony could not be got out of Abbey 
somehow. With characteristic energy, Keats promptly 
determined to have no more to do with letters, but to go 
up to town at once and have an interview with Abbey. He 
left Winchester at nine o'clock that same evening, and was 
duly landed at the Bell and Crown Inn, Hoi burn, at nine 
o'clock on Saturday morning, September eleventh. I ad- 
mit that I have arrived at these hours from deduction 
chiefly. There were only two night coaches from Southamp- 
ton in 1819, and one was the mail. If Keats took the mail, 
he would have had to pay more than if he went by the 
other coach, also he says: "I came by the Friday night 
coach," not the "Friday night mail." It makes very little 
odds which conveyance he went by. Both ran to the same 
London inn, the only difference was that the mail left 
Winchester an hour later than the night coach, and 
arrived at the Bell and Crown two hours earlier. 

Keats, suddenly pulled out of the studious solitude of 
Winchester, found that "London appeared a very odd 
place." He said afterwards that it took him a whole day be- 
fore he could "feel among men." His first act was to write 
to Abbey and ask for an interview. Abbey was quite decent 
about this and invited him to "drink tea" and discuss 
business at seven o'clock on the following Monday. Here 
then were two whole days and a part of a third to be got 
through somehow. It might be thought that he would have 
betaken himself at once to the Brawnes' in Hampstead, 
but this was just what he did not do. Why, we shall see in 
a moment. Instead, he cast round in his mind which of his 
friends he should look up, and discovered that " there was 
not one house" he " felt any pleasure to call at." Reynolds 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 313 

had gone to Devonshire, the Dilkes were away in the 
country, Taylor was at Retford. He " walked about the 
streets as in a strange land." Rice was the only one at 
home, and with him he passed some time. The melancholy 
sojourn together at Shanklin had by no means dampened 
Keats's affectionate interest in Rice; on the contrary, Rice 
was still "the most sensible and even wise man I know," 
and of him he could still say with sober warmth: "We are 
great friends, and there is no one I like to pass a day with 
better." While Keats was at Rice's, Martin dropped in to 
say good-bye before going to Dublin, and the three cracked 
jokes together and recalled the Shanklin days which all 
three had shared. Keats saw Haslam too, but found him 
"very much occupied with love and business." He showed 
Keats a picture (presumably a miniature) of his inamorata 
by Severn, which Keats did not take to. His opinion of the 
young lady, as the picture discovered her, he expressed in 
this pregnant phrase: "I think she is though not very 
cunning, too cunning for him." Keats was in no mood to 
be sympathetic with lovers. A few days later he wrote to 
George: 

"A man in love I do think cuts the sorriest figure in the 
world ; queer, when I know a poor fool to be really in pain 
about it, I could burst out laughing in his face . . . Not 
that I take Haslam as a pattern for lovers; he is a very 
worthy man and a good friend. His love is very amusing." 

Among other doings of this Saturday, Keats dropped in 
at 93 Fleet Street, Taylor and Hessey's shop, where he saw 
Woodhouse, who invited him to breakfast with him the 
next day at his chambers in the Temple. On Sunday then, 
Keats breakfasted with Woodhouse and stayed with him 
all the morning, he even accompanied him to the Swan 
with Two Necks Inn in Lad Lane and saw him off in the 
Accommodation Post Coach for Weymouth at three. After 
this, he dined with Mrs. Wylie in Henrietta Street. And so 
passed Sunday. 



3i 4 JOHN KEATS 

On Monday, Keats at last brought himself to write to 
Fanny Brawne. It was surely time, he had not written to 
her since August sixteenth, and his being in London and 
not going to see her certainly called for an explanation. He 
gave it, honestly and painfully; and once again we must 
admire Fanny Brawne, who seems to have understood 
and forgiven. After telling her that it was a letter from 
George which had brought him to town, he continues: 

"Am I mad or not? I came by the Friday night coach 
and have not yet been to Hampstead. Upon my soul it is 
not my fault. I cannot resolve to mix any pleasure with 
my days: they go one like another, undistinguishable. If I 
were to see you to-day it would destroy the half com- 
fortable sullenness I enjoy at present into downright 
perplexities. I love you too much to venture to Hamp- 
stead, I feel it is not paying a visit, but venturing into a 
fire. Queferaijef as the French novel writers say in fun, 
and I in earnest: really what can I do? Knowing well that 
my life must be passed in fatigue and trouble, I have been 
endeavouring to wean myself from you : for to myself alone 
what can be much of a misery? As far as they regard 
myself I can despise all events: but I cannot cease to love 
you. This morning I scarcely know what I am doing. I am 
going to Walthamstow. I shall return to Winchester to- 
morrow; whence you shall hear from me in a few days. I 
am a Coward, I cannot bear the pain of being happy: 'tis 
out of the question: I must admit no thought of it." 

Keats did go to Walthamstow that morning, where he 
found his sister looking better than he had seen her for some 
time, but he did not go back to Winchester until Wednes- 
day, and he did not write to Fanny Brawne "in a few days." 
It was nearly a month before she heard from him again, but 
then they met, and the fog which Keats had spread between 
them was cleared away. 

I have called it selfishness which kept Keats from writ- 
ing to Miss Brawne for so long, and so it undoubtedly was 
in the beginning. But George's unfortunate news puts a 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 315 

rather different complexion on the case. If Keats were 
protecting himself before, it was Fanny Brawne even more 
than himself whom he was protecting now. That he had 
nothing to offer her, no possible hope of marriage for years 
to come to bring to her, was becoming increasingly evident. 
We shall see his attitude very clearly between the lines of a 
letter to George which he wrote on his return to Winchester. 
But it should be noticed that he could not force himself to 
hint that she would be wise to break off the engagement. 
Things were pretty hopeless, but not yet hopeless enough 
for that. It was not only "fire" which he feared to find at 
Hampstead, it was the necessity of telling Miss Brawne 
how matters stood, and he shrank at the mere thought of 
this necessity. Hesimply could bearno more, and especially 
not that. He must hold to his shred of happiness a little 
longer and things must take their course, even although 
that course meant a passive cruelty in regard to her. In 
fairness to him, however, we must remember that he could 
not figure his mere silence as a cruelty, because of the blind 
spot in his mind to which I have already referred. 

Seven o'clock on Monday evening found him drinking 
tea in Pancras Lane with Abbey. Abbey was really dis- 
turbed at hearing what Keats had to say, and having read 
a part of George's letter which Keats showed him expressed 
himself as greatly concerned. "He will apply to Mr. 
Glidden the partner, endeavour to get rid of Mr. Jennings's 
claim, and be expeditious," Keats later told George. Keats 
speaks of "Mr. Jennings's claim/' I suppose he calls it so 
from the fact that Lieutenant Jennings's widow derived 
her claim through her husband. I do not understand that 
Keats's aunt, Mrs. Jennings, had a son, and her husband 
had long been dead. 

Business disposed of, Abbey turned to lighter matters. 
In Keats's words: 

"He began blowing up Lord Byron while I was sitting 
with him: 'However, may be the fellow says true things 



316 JOHN KEATS 

now and then/ at which he took up a magazine, and read 
me some extracts from Don Juan (Lord Byron's last flash 
poem), and particularly one against literary ambition." 

After Keats had left Abbey, he started to walk up Cheap- 
side, but returning to put some letters in the post en- 
countered Abbey again. This walk Keats describes with a 
good deal of amusement to George: 

"We walked together through the Poultry as far as the 
hatter's shop he has some concern in. He spoke of it in 
such a way to me, I thought he wanted me to make an 
offer to assist him in it. I do believe if I could be a hatter I 
might be one." 

A mad hatter, indeed, he would have been, and he did not 
make the offer. 

Tuesday is a blank. We know nothing about it, nor why 
Keats changed his mind about going back to Winchester on 
that day. The only farther details we have concerning 
these September days in town are that on one of the eve- 
nings of his stay he went toCovent Garden at half price, and 
that in passing Colinagni the print-seller's window he saw 
"a profile portrait of Sandt, the destroyer of Kotzebue," 
which seemed to him "like a young Abelard." On Wednes- 
day, he returned to Winchester, having received a promise 
from Abbey that he would let him know how affairs pro- 
ceeded, and arranged that if they went well he should again 
go up to town and instruct Abbey how to forward what- 
ever could be sent to the very remote spot known as Louis- 
ville, Kentucky, in the back provinces of the United States 
of America. 

When I spoke of this bird's-eye view of Keats's doings as 
being all we know of the town visit, I meant all the main 
facts, for we have an abundance of detail concerning one of 
Keats's engagements, and this detail carries with it a most 
interesting sequel. Woodhouse, on reaching Weymouth, 
wrote to Taylor, and from this letter and Taylor's reply I 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 317 

propose to quote at some length. Woodhouse's letter, 1 part 
of it, is as follows, he dates it "Weymouth, Monday 20 
Sept. 1819": 

" I left Town on Sunday Evening (i2th) & arrived here 
on the Monday about I . . . Keats was in Town the day 
before I left. He came into 93 unexpectedly, while I was 
in the midst of a recapitulation to Hessey of the strong 
points of the matter between yourselves and the Capt . . . 
K. came about his Chancery Suit that is to be: or rather 
that is not to be, if he succeeds in the object of his journey 
to London; which is to dissuade some old aunt from going 
into that Court. He took his breakfast with me on the 
Sunday, and remained with me till I stept into the coach 
for this place at 3 o'clock. I was much gratified with his 
company. He wanted I believe to publish the Eve of St. 
Agnes & Lamia immediately: but Hessey told him it could 
not answer to do so now. I wondered why he said nothing of 
Isabella: & assured him it would please more than the Eve 
of St. Agnes He said he could not bear the former now. 
It appeared to him mawkish. This certainly cannot be so. 
The feeling is very likely to come across an author on re- 
view of a former work of his own, particularly where the 
objects of his present meditations are of a more sobered & 
unpassionate character. The feeling of mawkishness seems 
to be that which comes upon us where anything of great 
tenderness & excessive simplicity is met with when we are 
not in a sufficiently tender & simple frame of mind to bear 
it: when we experience a sort of revulsion, or resiliency (if 
there be such a word) from the sentiment or expression. 
Now I believe there is nothing in the most passionate parts 
of Isabella to excite this feeling. It may, as may Lear, 
leave the reader far behind: but there is none of the sugar 
& butter sentiment, that cloys & disgusts. He had the ' Eve 
of St. A." copied fair. He has made trifling alterations, 
inserted an additional stanza early in the poem to make 
the legend more intelligible, and correspondent with what 
afterwards takes place, particularly with respect to the 

1 Morgan Collection. Partly published in Sir Sidney Colvin's Life of 
John Keats. Third Edition. 



3 i 8 JOHN KEATS 

supper & the playing on the lute. he retains the name of 
Porphyro has altered the last 3 lines to leave on the 
reader a sense of pettish disgust, by bringing old Angela in 
(only) dead stiff & ugly. He says he likes that the poem 
should leave off with this change of sentiment it was 
what he aimed at, & was glad to find from my objections 
to it that he has succeeded. I apprehend he had a fancy 
for trying his hand at an attempt to play with his reader & 
fling him off at last I sho'd have thought he affected the 
' Don Juan ' style of swinging up sentiment & sneering: but 
that he had before asked Hessey if he co'd procure him a 
sight of that work, as he had not met with it, and if the E. 
of St. A. had not in all probability been altered before his 
Lordship had then flown in the face of the public. There 
was another alteration, which I abused for "a full hour bv 
the Temple clock." You know if a thing has a decent side, 
I generally look no further As the Poem was origi'y 
written, we innocent ones (ladies & myself) might very well 
have supposed that Porphyro, when acquainted with 
Madeline's love for him, & when ' he arose, Etherial flush'd 
&c.&c. (turn to it) set himself at once to persuade her to go 
off with him, & succeeded & went over the 'Dartmoor 
black ' (now changed for some other place) to be married in 
right honest chaste & sober wise. But, as it is now altered, 
as soon as M. has declared her love, P. winds by degrees 
his arm round her, presses breast to breast, and acts all 
the acts of a bon&fide husband, while she fancies she is only 
playing the part of a wife in a dream. This alteration is of 
about 3 stanzas; and tho' there are no improper expressions 
but all is left to inference, and tho' profanely speaking, the 
Interest on the reader's imagination is greatly heightened, 
yet I do apprehend it will render the poem unfit for ladies, 
& indeed scarcely to be mentioned to them among the 
'things that are.' He says he does not want ladies to read 
his poetry: that he writes for men & that if in the former 
poem there was an opening for a doubt what took place, it 
was his fault for not writing clearly & comprehensibly 
that he sh'd despise a man who would be such an eunuch in 
sentiment as to leave a maid, with that character about her, 
in such a situation: & sh'd despise himself to write about 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 319 

&C.&G.&C. and all this sort of Keats-like rhodomontade. 

But you will see the work I dare say. 

He then read to me Lamia, which he has half fair-copied: 
the rest is rough. I was much pleased with it. I can use 
no other terms for you know how badly he reads his own 
poetry : & you know how slow I am in catching, even the 
sense of poetry read by the best reader for the 1st time. 
And his poetry really must be studied to be properly 
appreciated. The story is to this effect. Hermes is hunting 
for a nymph, when from a wood he hears his name & a song 
relating to his loss Mercury finds out that it comes from 
a serpent, who promises to show him his nymph if he will 
turn the serpent into a woman: This he agrees to: upon 
which the serpent breathes on his eyes when he sees his 
nymph who had been beside them listening invisibly. The 
serpent had seen a young man of Corinth with whom she 
had fallen desperately in love She is metamorphosed into 
a beautiful woman, the change is quite Ovidian, but better 

she then finds the youth, & they live together in a 
palace in the middle of Corinth (described, or rather 
pictured out in very good costume) the entrance of which 
no one can see (like the cavern Prince Ahmed found in the 
Arabian Nights when searching for his lost arrow.) There 
they live & love, 'the world forgetting: of the world for- 
got/ He wishes to marry her & introduce her to his friends 
as his wife. But this would be a forfeiture of her im- 
mortality & she refuses at length (for says K. 
'women love to be forced to do a thing, by a fine fellow 
such as this I forget his name was) she consents. The 
Palace door becomes visible to the ' astonishment of the 
natives' the friends are invited to the wedding-feast 
& K. wipes the cits & the low-lived ones: of some of whom 
he says 'who make their mouth a napkin to their thumb 1 
in the midst of this Imperial splendour. The lover had seen 
his tutor Appollonius that morning, while in a car with his 
Lamia ; he had a scowl on his brow, which makes the hearts 
of the lovers sink; & she asks him, who that frowning old 
fellow was, as soon as A. passed. He appears at the 
feast : damps the joy of the two by his presence sits over 
against the woman: He is a Magician. He looks earnestly 



320 JOHN KEATS 

at the woman: so intently & to such effect, that she reads 
in his eyes that she is discovered : & vanishes away, shriek- 
ing. The lover is told that she was a 'Lamia' & goes mad 
for the loss of her, & dies. You may suppose all these 
events have given K. scope for some beautiful poetry: 
which even in this cursory hearing of it, came every now & 
then upon me & made me 'start, as tho* a sea nymph, 
quired." The metre is Drydenian heroic with many 
triplets, & many alexandrines. But this K. observed, & I 
agreed, was required, as rather quite in character with the 
language & sentiment in those particular parts. K. has a 
fine feeling when & where he may use poetical licenses with 
effect. He very kindly reproached me with never writing to 
him. You may suppose I promised amendment & stipu- 
lated (as Paddy says) ' that all the reciprocity should not 
be on one side. 1 The last thing, as he shook me by the 
hand, he promised to drop me a line to Bath: 'and if (said 
he) it should be in verse, 1 dare say you will forgive me.' He 
parted with me at the Coach door. I had the inside all to 
myself: and I amused myself with diving into a deep 
reverie, & recalling all that had passed during the 6 hours 
we were tte & tgte. I make no apology for stuffing my 
letter with these Keatsiana. I am sure nothing else I could 
say would have half the interest. And I deem myself in 
luck to have such a subject to write about." 

The receipt of this letter threw the prudish Taylor into a 
state of real agitation. The odd attitude of the times, 
which dared do almost anything and dared say almost 
nothing, is exemplified in Taylor's answer. Keats's three 
stanzas appear to be lost, the only hint of them is contained 
in two very mild cancelled lines: 

11 See while she speaks his arms encroaching slow 
Have zon'd her, heart to heart loud, loud the dark winds 
blow." 

It seems impossible that anything so innocuous as this 
could have shocked Woodhouse and Taylor, even making 
allowance for the times, and therefore I think we must 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 321 

believe that Keats eventually destroyed the offending 
stanzas. 

Taylor's letter, 1 so much of it as refers to Keats, runs in 
this wise: 

"Bakewell Sat 25th Sep 1819. 
MY DEAR DICK, 

Your welcome Letter has just reached me, having been 
forwarded in a parcel from Retford, which place I left last 
Tuesday. I sit down to reply to it, more perhaps to 
express my regret at what you tell me of the Changes in 
the Eve of St. Agnes, than for any deliberate purpose of 
saying my say on things in general. This Folly of Keats 
is the most Stupid piece of Folly I can conceive. He 
does not bear the ill opinion of the world calmly, & yet he 
will not allow it to form a good opinion of Him & his 
writings. He repented of this Conduct when Endymion 
was published as much as a Man can repent, who shows 
by the accidental Expression of Disappointment, Morti- 
fication & Disgust that he has met with a Result different 
from that which he had anticipated Yet he will again 
challenge the same Neglect or Censure, & again (I pledge 
my Discernment on it) be vexed at the Reception he has 
prepared for himself. This Vaporing is as far from 
sound Fortitude, as the Conduct itself in the Instances 
before us, is devoid of good Feeling and good Sense. I 
don't know how the Meaning of the new Stanzas is wrapped 
up, but I will not be accessory (I can answer also for H. I 
think) towards publishing anything which can only be 
read by Men, since even on their Minds a bad Effect must 
follow the Encouragement of those thoughts which cannot 
be raised without Impropriety. 

If it was so natural a process in Keats's Mind to carry on 
the Train of his Story in the way he has done, that he could 
not write decently, if he had that Disease of the Mind 
which renders the Perception too dull to discover Right 
from Wrong in Matters of moral Taste, I should object 
equally then as now to the Sanctioning of the Infirmity by 
an act of cool Encouragement on my part, but then he 

1 Author's Collection. 



322 JOHN KEATS 

would be personally perhaps excusable As it is, the fly- 
ing in the Face of all Decency & Discretion is doubly 
offensive from its being accompanied with so preposterous 
a Conceit on his part of being able to overcome the best 
found Habits of our Nature. Had he known truly what 
the Society and what the Suffrages of Women are worth, 
he would never have thought of depriving himself of them. 
So far as he is unconsciously silly in this Proceeding I am 
sorry for him, but for the rest I cannot but confess to you 
that it excites in me the Strongest Sentiments of Dis- 
approbation Therefore my dear Dick if he will not so 
far concede to my wishes as to leave the passage as it 
originally stood, I must be content to admire his Poems 
with some other Imprint, & in so doing I can reap as much 
Delight from the Perusal of them as if they were our own 
property, without having the disquieting Consideration 
attached to them of our approving, by the 'Imprimateur,' 
those Parts which are unfit for publication. 

You will think me too severe again. Well then; I will 
suspend my Judgment till I see or hear more, but if these 
my present Views are shown to be no Illusion I must act as 
I have described How strange too that he should have 
taken such a Dislike to Isabella I still think of it exactly 
as you do, & from what he copied out of Lamia in a late 
Letter I fancy I shall prefer it to that poem also. The 
Extract he gave me was from the Feast: I did not enter so 
well into it as to be qualified to criticise, but whether it be 
a want of Taste for such Subjects as Fairy Tales, or that I 
do not perceive true Poetry except it is in Conjunction 
with good Sentiment I cannot tell but it did not promise to 
please me. " 

After reading these two letters, we can understand why 
Keats found Brown's society so refreshing. If Brown acted 
too much as he talked, at least he was all of a piece, a good, 
square, burly piece of robustious human nature. Yet, by 
this letter of his, we can see that Taylor was no fool. He 
put his finger at once on Keats's weak spot, that his 
cynicism was merely bitterness born of hurt feelings. He 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 323 

did not like the lines from Lamia which Keats had sent 
him, and no wonder when we see what they were, which 
I believe no living person but myself has yet done. What 
possible passage in the poem can Woodhouse refer to when 
he quotes that egregious remark of someone's mouth being 
a napkin to his thumb? The extract from Keats's letter of 
September fifth as published by Buxton Forman contains 
nothing of all this. But Buxton Forman is careful to ex- 
plain that, in the copy of the letter sent him, the lines from 
Lamia were not given, and that he has made them up from 
an early manuscript found among Lord Houghton's papers. 
Now the lines quoted in the original letter 1 are very differ- 
ent from Buxton Forman's guess at them. The passage 
begins with the line: 

"A haunting music, sole perhaps and lone" 

and continues for fifty-eight lines. It differs in several 
places from the version afterwards published, but it is not 
until the line beginning "Soft went the music " is reached 
that it ceases entirely to accord with it. From then to the 
final line copied in the letter, there is no resemblance be- 
tween what Keats sent to Taylor and read to Woodhouse 
and the poem as we know it. This is what Taylor read and 
Woodhouse listened to: 

"Soft went the music, and the tables all 
Sparkled beneath the viewless banneral 
Of Magic; and disposed in double row 
Seem'd edged Parterres of white bedded snow, 
Adorn 'd along the sides with living flowers 
Conversing, laughing after sunny showers: 
And, as the pleasant appetite entic'd 
Gush came the wine, and sheer the meats were slic'd. 
Soft went the Music; the flat salver sang 
Kiss'd by the emptied goblet, and again it rang: 
Swift bustled by the servants: here's a health 

1 Author's Collection. 



324 JOHN KEATS 

Cries one another then, as if by stealth, 

A Glutton drains a cup of Helicon, 

Too fast down, down his throat the brief delight is gone. 
'Where is that Music?' cries a Lady fair. 
'Aye, where is it my dear? Up in the air?' 

Another whispers. 'Poo!' saith Glutton 'Mum!' 

Then makes his shiny mouth a napkin for his thumb. 
&c. &c. &c." 

If Keats had been altering the Eve of St. Agnes in this 
vein, we cannot be too thankful to Woodhouse and Taylor 
for suppressing him. 

Keats returned to Winchester on Wednesday, September 
fifteenth, with his head full of plans and perplexities and 
no one to talk them over with, for Brown was still away. 
Two days later, on Friday, he began a letter to George 
which rambled on for ten days. I have already quoted 
somewhat from it, and shall quote more as necessity arises. 
The first part of this letter is taken up with an account of 
his visit to town, in the midst of which, apropos of Haslam, 
Keats breaks into one of his impromptu jingles, the one 
named by some subsequent editor A Party of Lovers. Keats 
calls these lines "a few nonsense verses" and they are no 
more. The type of tea-table lover here lampooned cannot 
even be considered as a result of Keats's unhappy musings 
on his own condition. 

But Keats was not always unhappy. The next slice of 
the letter, written on Saturday, records one of* those strange 
veerings from grave to gay to which he was mercifully 
subject. He begins: 

"With my inconstant disposition it is no wonder that 
this morning, amid all our bad times and misfortunes, I 
should feel so alert and well-spirited ... It is because my 
hopes are ever paramount to my dispair." 

Perhaps this was the reason of his high spirits, but is it 
not more likely, in the present instance, that a comforting 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 325 

letter from Fanny Brawne in answer to his note of the 
Monday before may have had something to do with it? 
Whether the high spirits were cause or effect, they are 
closely related to a re-reading of Lamia which he had just 
been engaged upon. Here is his opinion of that poem: 

" I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have 
composed lately, called Lamia, and I am certain there is 
that sort of fire in it which must take hold of people in 
some way. Give them either pleasant or unpleasant sen- 
sation what they want is sensation of some sort." 

Sunday seems to have been largely spent in going over 
and revising the fragment of the Eve of St. Mark, begun the 
February before at Hampstead, for on Monday he ushers 
in a copy of it to George by means of this enchanting 
prologue: 

" This day is a grand day for Winchester. They elect the 
Mayor. It was indeed high time the place should have 
some sort of excitement. There was nothing going on all 
asleep. Not an old maid's sedan returning from a card 
party ; and if any old women have got tipsy at christenings, 
they have not exposed themselves in the street. The first 
night, tho', of our arrival here there was a slight uproar 
took place at about ten of the clock. We heard distinctly a 
noise patting down the street, as of a walking-cane of the 
good old dowager breed ; and a little minute after we heard 
a less voice observe, 'What a noise the ferril made it 
must be loose.' Brown wanted to call the constables, but I 
observed it was only a little breeze, and would soon pass 
over. The side streets here are excessively maiden-lady- 
like, the doorsteps always fresh from the flannel. The 
knockers have a very staid, serious, nay almost awful quiet- 
ness about them. I never saw so quiet a collection of lions' 
and rams' heads. The doors most part black, with a little 
brass handle just above the keyhole, so that you may easily 
shut yourself out of your own house. He! He! There is none 
of your Lady Bellaston ringing and rapping here; no thun- 
dering Jupiter-footmen, no opera-treble tattoos, but a mod- 



326 JOHN KEATS 

est lifting up of the knocker by a set of little wee old fingers 
that peep through grey mittens, and a dying fall thereof. 
The great beauty of poetry is that it makes everything, 
every place, interesting. The palatine Venice and the 
abbotine Winchester are equally interesting. Some time 
since I began a poem called 'The Eve of St. Mark,' quite 
in the spirit of town quietude. I think it will give you the 
sensation of walking about an old country town in a coolish 
evening. I know not whether I shall ever finish it; I will 
give it as far as I have gone." 

Here follows the Eve of St. Mark, and after it Keats re- 
marks: "I hope you will like this for all its carelessness/' 
Like it! To some of us in this day and age, St. Mark ranks 
so high among Keats's works as to be the equal of any, be 
the other what it may. Rossetti considered it as " perhaps, 
with La Belle Dame sans Merci the chastest and choicest 
example of his maturing manner." x It is certainly that; 
the poem exhibits all Keats's virtues and practically none 
of his faults. Not a trace of his youthful sentimentality dis- 
figures it. Story, atmosphere, colour, line, imagination, 
human interest, we have all these elements at their best in 
the hundred and nineteen lines of this fragment. It is as 
nearly perfect of its kind as a poem can be. The opening 
lines are a marvel of reticent presentation. There is not a 
redundant word, and not a word too few. I think no picture 
which Keats has given us quite equals this: 

"Upon a Sabbath-day it fell; 
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell, 
That call'd the folk to evening prayer; 
The city streets were clean and fair 
From wholesome drench of April rains; 
And, on the western window panes, 
The chilly sunset faintly told 
Of unmatur'd green vallies cold, 
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge, 
Of rivers new with spring-tide sedge, 

1 Quoted by Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 327 

Of primroses by shelter'd rills, 
And daisies on the aguish hills. 
Twice holy was the Sabbath-bell: 
The silent streets were crowded well 
With staid and pious companies, 
Warm from their fire-side orat'ries; 
And moving, with demurest air, 
To even-song, and vesper prayer. 
Each arched porch, and entry low, 
Was fill'd with patient folk and slow, 
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet, 
While play'd the organ loud and sweet." 

There is no need to comment on poetry such as that; it is 
ts own commentary. I shall only ask my readers to notice 
low the bell, clanging once, twice, at a carefully spaced in- 
erval, gives just the effect of a real bell, slowly, regularly 
ounding through the damp evening air, above the contin- 
LOUS murmur of shuffling feet, and how it harmonizes with, 
.nd breaks in upon, the tones of the organ. So excellent is 
his poem that one longs to quote it all, from the sheer diffi- 
ulty of choosing parts. Since I cannot do that, I shall 
[uote no more. It must be read, and read with attention, 
urrendering one's self to its swift, although gentle, changes 
f effect. St. Mark is a quiet poem, and it must be read with 

quiet heart and a mind smooth and ready to take impres- 
ions, so that we may not merely read, but see, first the 
Minster square, then the panelled room with the young girl 
eading her great illuminated book, then the book itself and 
ts strange pictures and crooked mediaeval script. Scholars 
ake great pleasure in informing us that Keats's attempt at 
Middle English is no English at all, unless it be Chatter- 
on's. It may be well to know this as a matter of curiosity; 
rom the poetical point of view, it is of no importance what- 
ver. St. Mark is a perfect thing no matter how incorrect 
: may be historically, criticism on that score is of no mo- 
lent here. 



328 JOHN KEATS 

The tale is based on another old legend, one peculiar to 
the evening before the day dedicated to St. Mark, which 
falls on April twenty-fifth. According to this legend, any 
one standing beside the door of a church on the evening 
in question will see entering it the apparitions of those 
persons belonging to the parish who are doomed to die dur- 
ing the coming year. 

Rossetti was the first person to point out that Keats's 
fragment undoubtedly referred to this superstition; 1 and 
that his surmise was correct, was proved by the discovery 
of a portion of another manuscript of the poem by Buxton 
Forman in 1906. This passage also occurs copied out by 
Woodhouse in one of his Commonplace Books. 2 I give it 
here from Professor de Selincourt's fourth edition of Keats's 
Poems: 

" Gif ye wol stonden hardie wight 
Amiddes of the blacke night 
Righte in the church^ porch, pardie 
Ye wol behold a companie 
Appouchen thee full dolourouse 
For sooth to sain from everich house 
Be it in City or village 
Wol come the Phantom and image 
Of ilka geat and ilka carl 
Whom cold Death hath in parle 
And wol some day that very year 
Touchen with foute venime spear 
And sadly do them all to die 
Hem all shalt thou see verilie 
And everichon shall by thee pass 
All who must die that year Alas." 

Sir Sidney Colvin is greatly exercised to discover whether 
the setting of the poem itself be mediaeval or modern. The 
former it certainly cannot be; as to the latter, it depends 
upon what interpretation one gives to the word "modern." 

1 Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 

1 Woodhouse (Poems II.) Crewe Collection. Discovered in 1913. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 329 

The setting of St. Mark need not be exactly of Keats's 
time, but it as certainly dates to some period subsequent to 
the making of Sunday a solemn day rather than a gay one. 
Once again, it does not matter. Nothing matters here but 
the extraordinary beauty of the poem itself. 

It is unfortunate that we have no means of determining 
how much of this fragment was composed in February, and 
how much was done in September. We have already ob- 
served Keats's remarkable versatility in changing from one 
atmosphere to another in the shortest possible time. For a 
man who could sandwich Otho in between the two parts of 
Lamia, the jump from Lamia to St. Mark presents no sort 
of obstacle. On the whole, I think the change of mood 
from St. Agnes 9 Eve to the Eve of St. Mark was a more 
difficult feat to perform. Keats had been working over 
St. Agnes ' Eve in February, but he had also been working 
on it in September. However we look at it, St. Mark 
stands apart and by itself. No other of his narratives has 
quite this touch, the nearest approach to it is the ode To 
Autumn which was apparently also done on this Sunday. 

It is curious to note how much more mature in many 
ways St. Mark is than Lamia. It, and the ode To Autumn, 
reflect more clearly what Keats was at this moment than 
does that poem with its occasional returns to his earlier 
manner. Keats himself gives us the key in that part of his 
letter to George written on Tuesday, September twenty- 
first. He says: 

"From the time you left me our friends say I have 
altered completely am not the same person . . . Some 
think I have lost that poetical ardour and fire 'tis said I 
once had The fact is, perhaps I have; but, instead of 
that, I hope I shall substitute a more thoughtful and quiet 
power. I am more frequently now contented to read and 
think, but now and then haunted with ambitious thoughts. 
Quieter in my pulse, improved in my digestion, exerting 
myself against vexing speculations, scarcely content to 



330 JOHN KEATS 

write the best verses for the fever they leave behind. I 
want to compose without this fever. I hope I one day shall. 
You would scarcely imagine I could live alone so com- 
fortably ' Kepen in solitarinesse.' " 

The quotation from St. Mark links this passage to the 
poem, as, indeed, we know it to have been linked from the 
beginning. In St. Mark, the altered Keats stands forth 
very plainly. I imagine he never finished the poem from 
the knowledge that he could not do so without undergoing 
the fever he dreaded. Cool as the fragment sounds, it 
cannot have been written without heat; but the energy 
required to carry on and finish a sustained poem, such as 
St. Mark must have been, is greater than that needed to 
begin it. This Keats knew, and the poem was never com- 
pleted. Poetry cannot be written without fever. The 
creation of a work of art in any form is a terribly exhaust- 
ing thing. An artist in normal health is none the worse for 
this exhaustion in the long run; and he is sustained through 
it by the immensely tonic and bracing effect inherent in the 
act of creation. One sensation relieves the other, and in 
the end both together bring him back without injury to 
an even plane. The life of an artist is made up of these 
rises and falls of temperature. He is like a man whose 
work necessitates a deprivation of sleep on certain nights 
in the week which he is accustomed to make up on 
others. 

Keats's difficulty lay in the fact that he was not in nor- 
mal health. He was in no state to stand successive shocks 
to his nervous system. It took him too long to recover, his 
resiliance was entirely sapped by illness. Every poem he 
wrote shook his vitality to its foundations, and slowly, 
steadily, it gave way, until he was powerless to live and 
write, and the writing had to go. I have called this chap- 
ter "A Tide and its Undertow" advisedly. Mentally, he 
was in the heyday of maturing force. Had he been well, 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 331 

it is quite evident that an almost torrential flow of poetry 
was due, and that his happiness would have been in giving 
vent to it. Desperately ill as he was, it was only a ques- 
tion which could keep the upper hand, the power of crea- 
tion, or the debility of disease, one constantly pushing 
him forward, the other forever pulling him back. Not 
until this Summer at Shanklin and Winchester did his dual 
condition assume the aspect of a real struggle, and this, 
sure to come at last as it was, might have been postponed 
a little longer had not the wrench away from Fanny Brawne 
weakened his energy in other directions by just the amount 
needed to fight his misery. Effort became a huge monster 
seeking to destroy him. He made a gallant resistance, but 
escape he could not. From this time on he fought a losing 
battle. 

It was only by fits and starts at this period, however, 
that Keats was aware of his own growing inertia. Im- 
mediately after his return to Winchester he was in un- 
usually good spirits for a while. For a brief moment, 
poetry had an inning. The weather was beautiful, and he 
thought he had hit upon a plan which would do away 
with some, if not all, of his troubles. I will come to that 
presently. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Keats did a deal of letter 
writing. To Dilke he wrote: "Whatever I take to for the 
time I cannot leave off in a hurry; letter writing is the go 
now; I have consumed a quire at least." Some of this quire 
went to Reynolds and some to Woodhouse. At the mo- 
ment, he was so much in love with Winchester, and his 
description of it sent to George, that he copied it to Rey- 
nolds on Tuesday, adding: 

" How beautiful the season is now How fine the air 
a temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, 
chaste weather Dian skies I never liked stubble-field 
so much as now Aye better than the chilly green of 
Spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm in the 



332 JOHN KEATS 

same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me 
so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it." 

What he composed was the ode To Autumn. His reference 
to the "chilly green of Spring," points clearly to the Eve 
of St. Mark. I imagine him to have been working at St. 
Mark before his walk, and that, on coming in, he immedi- 
ately wrote To Autumn as a sort of companion piece and 
antithesis. There is another correspondence between the 
two poems in this sentence of the letter, which follows 
shortly after the one I have quoted: 

11 1 always somehow associate Chatterton with autumn. 
He is the purest writer in the English Language. He has 
no French idiom or particles, like Chaucer 'tis genuine 
English Idiom in English words." 

It has long been known that Keats copied out the ode To 
Autumn in the letter written that same day to Woodhouse, 
but for many years this letter was supposed to be irrecover- 
ably lost, as all trace of it had vanished. It was my good 
fortune to buy it, quite unwittingly, with a number of 
other letters written by Keats, over twenty years ago, but 
I have only recently discovered its history. This whole 
collection of letters was bequeathed by Woodhouse to 
Taylor, and on Taylor's death passed into the possession of 
a niece who, many years later, sold them at auction. They 
were bought by a London book-seller from whom I pur- 
chased them. I allowed this "lost" letter to be printed in 
the Keats Memorial Volume ', and I reproduce it here directly 
from the original. 1 

"Tuesday. 
DEAR WOODHOUSE, 

If you see what I have said to Reynolds before you come 
to your own dose you will put it between the bars unread; 

1 At the time the copy was made for the Keats Memorial Volume, I was 
ill and unable to go over the transcription, which, I fear, contained errors. 
The letter as here printed is absolutely correct. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 333 

provided they have begun fires in Bath. I should like a bit 
of fire to night one likes a bit of fire. How glorious the 
Blacksmith's shops look now. I stood to night before one 
till I was very near listing for one. Yes I should like a bit 
of fire at a distance about 4 feet ' not quite hob nob' as 
Wordsworth says. The fact was I left Town on Wednesday 

determined to be in a hurry. You don't eat travelling 

you're wrong beef beef I like the look of a sign. 
The Coachman's face says eat eat, eat. I never feel more 
contemptible than when I am sitting by a goodlooking 
coachman. One is nothing. Perhaps I eat to persuade my- 
self I am somebody. You must be when slice after slice 
but it wont do the Coachman nibbles a bit of bread 
he's favour'd he's had a Call a Hercules Methodist. 
Does he live by bread alone? O that I were a Stage 
Manager perhaps that's as old as doubling the Cape. 
'How are ye old 'un? hey! why dont'e speak?' O that I 
had so sweet a Breast to sing as the Coachman hath! I'd 
give a penny for his Whistle and bow to the Girls on 
the road Bow nonsense 'tis a nameless graceful slang 
action. Its effect on the women suited to it must be de- 
lightful. It touches 'em in the ribs en passant very 
off hand very fine Sed thougum formosa vale vale 
inquit, Heigho la! You like poetry better so you shall 
have some I was going to give Reynolds. 

Season of Mists and mellow fruitfulness, 

Close bosom friend of the maturing sun ; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 

The vines with fruit that round the thatch eaves run; 
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees, 

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazle-shells 
With a white kernel ; to set budding more, 

And still more later flowers for the bees 

Untill they think warm days will never cease 

For summer has o'er brimmed the[i]r clammy Cells. 

Who hath not seen thee oft, amid thy stores? 
Sometimes, whoever seeks abroad may find 



334 J HN KEATS 

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 
Or on a half reap'd furrow sound asleep, 

Dased with the fume of poppies, while thy hook 

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers; 
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
Or by a Cyder press, with patient look, 

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours. 

Where are the songs of spring? Aye, where are they? 

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too. 
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day 

And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue: 
Then in a wailful quire the small gnats mourn 

Among the river sallows, borne aloft 

Or sinking as the light wind lives and dies; 
And full grown Lambs loud bleat from hilly bourne: 

Hedge crickets sing, and now with treble soft 

The Redbreast whistles from a garden Croft 
And gathered Swallows twitter in the Skies. 

I will give you a few lines from Hyperion on account of a 
word in the last line of a fine sound. 

1 Mortal ! that thou mays't understand aright 
I humanize my sayings to thine ear, 
Making comparisons of earthly things; 
Or thou might'st better listen to the wind 
Though it blows legend-laden through the trees. 

I think you will like the following description of the 
Temple of Saturn. 

I look'd around upon the carved sides 
Of an old Sanctuary, with roof august 
Builded so high, it seem'd that filmed clouds 
Might sail beneath, as o'er the stars of heaven. 
So old the place was I remember none 
The like upon the earth ; what I had seen 
Of grey Cathedrals, buttress'd walls, rent towers- 
The superannuations of sunk realms, 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 335 

Or nature's rocks hard toil'd in winds and waves, 

Seem'd but the failing of decrepit things 

To that eternal-domed monument. 

Upon the marble, at my feet, there lay 

Store of strange vessels and large draperies 

Which needs had been of dyed asbestos wove, 

Or in that place the moth could not corrupt, 

So white the linen, so, in some distinct 

Ran imageries from a sombre loom. 

All in a mingled heap confused there lay 

Robes, golden tongs, censer and chafing dish 

Girdles, and chains and holy jewelries. 

Turning from these, with awe once more I rais'd 

My eyes to fathom the space every way; 

The embossed roof, the silent massive range 

Of Columns north and south, ending in Mist 

Of nothing; then to the eastward where black gates 

Were shut against the Sunrise ever more. 

I see I have completely lost my direction. So I e'n make 
you pay double postage. I had begun a sonnet in french of 
Ronsard on my word 'tis very capable of poetry. I was 
stop'd by a circumstance not worth mentioning. I intended 
to call it La Platonique Chevalresque I like the second 
line 

Non ne suis si audace a languire 

De m'empresser au coeur nos tendres mains. &c. 

Here is what I had written for a sort of induction 
Fanatics have their dreams wherewith they weave 
A Paradise for a Sect; the savage too 
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep 
Guesses at Heaven: pity these have not 
Trac'd upon vellum or wild indian leaf 
The shadows of melodious utterance: 
But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die, 
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams, 
With the fine spell of words alone can save 
Imagination from the sable charm 
And dumb enchantment. 



336 JOHN KEATS 

My poetry will never be fit for anything it does n't 
cover its ground well. You see he she is off her guard and 
does n't move a peg though Prose is coming up in an awk- 
ward style enough. Now a blow in the spondee wo'd finish 
her but let it get over this line of circumvallation if it 
can. These are unpleasant Phrase. 

Now for all this you two must write me a letter apiece 
for as I know you will interread one another. I am still 
writing to Reynolds as well as yourself. As I say to George 
I am writing to you but at your Wife And dont forget to 
tell Reynolds of the fairy tale Undine. Ask him if he has 
read any of the American Brown's l novels that Hazlitt 
speaks so much of. I have read one call'd Wieland very 
powerful something like Godwin. Between Schiller and 
Godwin. A Domestic prototype of Shiller's Armenian. 
More clever in plot and incident than Godwin. A strange 
american scion of the German trunk. Powerful genius 
accomplish'd horrors I shall proceed tomorrow. 
Wednesday I am all in a Mess here embowell'd in 
Winchester. I wrote two Letters to Brown one from said 
Place, and one from London, and neither of them has 
reach 'd him. I have written him a long one this morning 
and am so perplex'd as to be an object to Curiosity to you 
quiet People. I hire myself a show waggon and a trumpet- 
our. Here's the wonderful Man whose Letters wont go! 
All the infernal imaginary thunderstorms from the Post- 
office are beating upon me so that 'unpoeted I write.' 
Some curious body has detained my Letters. I am sure of 
it. They know not what to make of me not an acquaint- 
ance in the Place what can I be about? so they open 
my Letters. Being in a lodging house, and not so self will'd, 
but I am a little cowardly I dare not spout my rage against 
the Ceiling. Besides I should be run through the Body by 
the major in the next room. I don't think his wife would 
attempt such a thing. Now I am going to be serious. 
After revolving certain circumstances in my Mind; chiefly 
connected with the late american letter I have de- 
termined to take up my abode in a cheap Lodging in Town 
and get employment in some of our elegant Periodical 

1 Charles Brockden Brown. 1771-1810. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 337 

Works. I will no longer live upon hopes. I shall carry my 
plan into execution speedily I shall live in Westminster 
from which a walk to the British Museum will be noisy 
and muddy but otherwise pleasant enough. I shall 
enquire of Hazlitt how the figures of the market stand. O 
that I could something agrestunal, pleasant, fountain- 
voic'd not plague you with unconnected nonsense 
But things won't leave me alone. I shall be in Town as soon 
as either of you. I only wait for an answer from Brown : if 
he receives mine which is now a very moot point. I will 
give you a few reasons why I shall persist in not publishing 
The Pot of Basil. It is too smokeable. I can get it smoak'd 
at the Carpenters shaving chimney much more cheaply. 
There is too much inexperience of line, and simplicity of 
knowledge in it which might do very well after one's 
death, but not while one is alive. There are very few 
would look to the reality. I intend to use more finesse with 
the Public. It is possible to write fine things which cannot 
be laugh 'd at in any way. Isabella is what I should call 
were I a reviewer 'A weak-sided Poem' with an amusing 
sober-sadness about it. Not that I do not think Reynolds 
and you are quite right about it it is enough for me. But 
this will not do to be public. If I may so say, in my dra- 
matic capacity I enter fully into the feeling: but in Propria 
Persona I should be apt to quiz it myself. There is no 
objection of this kind to Lamia A good deal to S*. 
Agnes Eve only not so glaring. Would as I say I could 
write you something sylvestian. But I have no time to 
think: I am an otiosus-preoccupatus Man. I think upon 
crutches, like the folks in your Pump room. Have you 
seen old Bramble 1 yet they say he's on his last legs. The 
gout did not treat the old Man well so the Physician super- 
seded it, and put the dropsy in office, who gets very fat 
upon his new employment, and behaves worse than the 
other to the old Man. But he'll have his house about his 
ears soon. We shall have another fall of Siege-arms. I 
suppose Mrs. Humphrey persists in a big-belley poor 
thing she little thinks how she is spoiling the corners of 
her mouth and making her nose quite a piminy. Mr. 

1 The old squire in Smollett's Humphrey Clinker. 



'338 JOHN KEATS 

Humphrey I hear was giving a Lecture in the gaming-room 
when some one call'd out Sponsey ! I hear too he has 
received a challenge from a gentleman who lost that eve- 
ning. The fact is Mr. H. is a mere nothing out of his 
Bath-room. Old Tabitha 1 died in being bolstered up for a 
whist party. They had to cut again. Chowder 2 died long 
ago Mrs. H. laments that the last last time they put 
him (i.e. to breed) he didn't take. They say he was a direct 
descendent of Cupid and Veny in the Spectator. This may 
be easily known by the Parish Books. If you do not write 
in the course of a day or two direct to me at Rice's. Let 
me know how you pass your times and how you are. 

Your sincere friend 

JOHN KEATS 
Hav'nt heard from Taylor." 

There is so much to remark about this letter that I am 
almost at a loss where to begin. I have already spoken at 
such length on the ode To Autumn, both here and in an 
earlier chapter, 8 that it is unnecessary to say much more. 
To Autumn ranks with the Grecian Urn and the Nightin- 
gale as one of Keats's best odes. It is important to note 
how subtly it differs from either of those poems, chiefly 
from the fact that it is totally devoid of any suggestion 
beyond itself. There was an undercurrent of meaning and 
emotion in all the Spring odes which To Autumn is con- 
spicuously without. It is picture and no more. Its emo- 
tion, so far as it has any, is the mere delight of sensation 
received through the eyes, ears, nose, and even touch, the 
touch of wind and sun on an eager skin. To Autumn is an 
almost completely impersonal poem. The poet himself is 
merely an exquisitely sensitive recording medium. The 
charm of the poem lies in just this fact, that nothing comes 
between us and the day Keats wished us to see. There 
are no echoes, no literary images, all is clear, single, and 
perfectly attuned. Keats excluded himself, but the artist 

1 Tabitha Bramble, the squire's sister. 8 Tabitha Bramble's dog. 

1 See Vol. I, pp. 503-504- 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 339 

in him was never more alive. He adds a line to the stanza 
form of his previous odes, but adds it as penultimate, so 
keeping his rhyme pattern intact. Oh, the excellent musi- 
cian that was Keats! 

And now I come to Hyperion Hyperion which has been 
dodging past us for so long. I have waited to speak of it 
until we reached this letter, for, without it, it was impossible 
to explain all the steps which have led me to a startling 
discovery. Before revealing this, however, I wish to make 
a few things quite plain. Hyperion, both versions, was 
written on a theory; it was one of those efforts to discover 
a direction which we have seen Keats so much occupied 
with all the previous Autumn and Winter. Keats had con- 
ceived the idea of writing a poem on the subject of Hype- 
rion while he was still at work on Endymion, but in what 
form the poem was to be written he took some time to de- 
cide. The only thing he seems to have been fully deter- 
mined about was that it should in no way resemble the 
form of Endymion. Let me state at the outset that I quite 
agree with Keats in considering the result or at least one 
of the results a failure, the other is too fragmentary to 
enable us to come to a final decision concerning it. 

Keats worked indefatigably at his idea. He tried it, 
gave it up; tried it on another plan, and gave that up; went 
back to his first attempt, tinkered tinkered but was 
never satisfied. Keats knew that Hyperion was a good 
imitation of a manner, but felt underneath that the man- 
ner did not fit him, that it was stilted and unnatural. He 
says as much about the second version, the published 
Hyperion, and although illness took him before he had 
said much about the other, the very little he had done on 
it, does, I believe, prove my point. 

I realize that to students of Keats I make a strange 
statement in speaking of a version of Hyperion begun and 
abandoned, another begun and left off, and the first taken 
up again. I am quite aware that recent criticism believes 



34 o JOHN KEATS 

the published Hyperion to have been the poem which Keats 
started during Tom's illness; and the (so-called) Fall or 
Vision of Hyperion to be a recast. The authority for this 
opinion is Brown, who has stated that in the evenings 
during November and December, 1819, Keats was "re- 
modelling the fragment of 'Hyperion' into the form of 
a 'Vision.' " I think it very likely that Keats was working 
on the Vision during these months, more likely still that 
he told Brown he was going to do so, and tried, only to 
be once more baffled; but I most surely believe that he 
had begun it much earlier, probably before the other. 

Brown was not always accurate in his recollections, and 
we must constantly remember that these statements of his 
are the work of a twenty-year-old memory. For instance, 
in one thing we must suppose him to be either wrong or 
confused. He told Lord Houghton that Hyperion was 
begun after Tom's death when Keats had come to live with 
him at Wentworth Place. But was it? 

The attempt to unravel Keats's work at Well Walk 
before Tom's death, and his work at Wentworth Place 
after Tom's death, is not a little puzzling, but there are 
certain indications in the letters which may give us a clue. 
First, there is the letter to Dilke of September twenty- 
first, 1818, in which Keats describes himself as obliged to 
"plunge into abstract images" to relieve himself of the 
thought of Tom. Then there is the sentence in the letter 
to Reynolds, written on either the same day or the next: 
"This morning Poetry has conquered I have relapsed 
into those abstractions which are my only life," and it can 
hardly be supposed that the translation from Ronsard, 
which he quotes shortly after, accounts for all the " abstrac- 
tions." Finally there is the reference to Saturn and Ops in 
the letter to Woodhouse of October twenty-seventh, 1818. 
All this seems to point to some sort of a beginning made on 
the poem, particularly when we compare these sentences 
with another in the October, 1818, letter to George, where 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 34 i 

he says that he has " too many interruptions to a train of 
feeling to be able to write Poetry/' This looks very much 
as though he had been trying to write and could not make 
a go of it. A little later on, we have what I believe to be 
corroborative proof that Keats had done some of Hyperion 
at Well Walk. Writing to George on a Thursday in De- 
cember from Wentworth Place, Keats says: "I am passing 
a Quiet day which I have not done for a long while 
and if I do continue so, I feel I must again begin with my 
poetry," and under the date of "Friday" (evidently the 
next day) he adds: " I think you knew before you left Eng- 
land, that my next subject would be ' the fall of Hyperion/ 
I went on with it a little last night, but it will take some time 
to get into the vein again." Now here Keats speaks of the 
poem as "the fall of Hyperion" which he does nowhere else. 
The manuscript of the Vision has disappeared, but in allud- 
ing to it in his interleaved copy of Endymion Woodhouse 
calls it The Fall of Hyperion, a Dream, and this is the title 
he gave to his transcript of the poem which Lord Crewe 
discovered in 1904.* It has been suggested, as Professor de 
Selincourt points out, that the influence of Dante is very 
noticeable in the Fall, or Vision as I shall call it here. In the 
Summer of 1 81 8, Keats had been reading Gary's translation 
of Dante on his Scotch tour, what more natural then than 
that his first attempt at the poem should be, if only slightly, 
reminiscent of Dante. There is no suggestion whatever 
of Dante in Hyperion proper, and there is no particular 
reason why there should be, if the poem were begun, as I 
believe and Brown definitely states, at Wentworth Place. 
His re-reading of Dante, which produced his Paolo and 
Francesca sonnet, post-dates any work done on Hyperion. 
My own opinion is that when Keats returned to the Vision 
after Tom's death he found himself unable to recapture his 
original mood, and therefore started the poem again on an 
altered plan. Our reasoning has run full circle, and in this 

1 The Poems of John Keats, edited by E. de Selincourt. Fourth Edition. 



342 JOHN KEATS 

instance we see Brown to have been at the same time right, 
wrong, and confused. Hyperion was undoubtedly begun at 
Wentworth Place after Keats had abandoned his first at- 
tempt at the subject, which was the Vision so far Brown 
was right; but he was wrong to suppose the Vision to have 
been the second version of the poem; and he was confused 
in not realizing that an earlier version than the one he 
first knew had been started at Well Walk. 

But the evidence just presented is by no means all upon 
which I base my conclusion. There is considerably more. 
Writing to George on the twenty-first of September, 1819, 
Keats says: "I shall never become attached to a foreign 
idiom, so as to put it into my writings. The Paradise Lost, 
though so fine in itself, is a corruption of our language ... I 
have but lately stood on my guard against Milton. Life to 
him would be death to me ... I wish to devote myself to 
another verse alone." The clue to that passage is in the 
letter written the very next day to Reynolds, where he 
announces flatly: "I have given up Hyperion there 
were too many Miltonic inversions in it." He goes on to 
ask Reynolds to mark those lines in Hyperion which seem 
to him to contain "the false beauty proceeding from art" 
and those which have the " true voice of feeling." Already, 
in April, he had told Woodhouse that he should not go on 
with the poem, and that this was Hyperion is evident from 
Woodhouse's distinct statement that the fragment con- 
sisted of "about 900 lines." The published version has 
883 lines, but the Vision never got beyond one and a half 
Cantos, in all 506 lines. We know that Keats's remarks of 
this sort are not always to be taken as final, and from his 
saying to Bailey in August: "I have been writing parts of 
my 'Hyperion,'" I presume that he still had thoughts of 
returning to it. Now, in Winchester, having glanced over 
the Eve of St. Agnes , worked at it a little and found it good, 
having written the ode To Autumn and found that good 
also, he was moved to take a look at Hyperion and that he 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 343 

found not good. Hence the decision to abandon it ex- 
pressed to Reynolds. 

Now here is my bomb-shell ! The " lines from Hyperion" 
(at this time, Keats called both versions so indiscrimi- 
nately) which contained the word "of a fine sound" in this 
"lost" letter to Woodhouse are the beginning of the 
Second Canto of the Vision, and the "description of the 
Temple of Saturn," quoted immediately after, are lines 
60 to 86 of the First Canto. What does this mean? It 
means, I think, that, having been disappointed in the effect 
which the re-reading of Hyperion made upon him, he got 
out what he had written of the Vision and was at once 
struck with its possibilities. I am inclined to think the 
fragment as it stood ended somewhere in the First Canto, 
perhaps the whole of the First Canto had been written, 
and that Keats tried his hand at continuing it then and 
there; else why should the quotations be out of order. If 
his "legend-laden" wind were an immediate conception, 
it was quite natural that he should dash it off to Wood- 
house, and go back to the earlier lines afterwards. 

That he turned back to the poem again a little later, we 
see by his quoting the very beginning of Canto I after 
mentioning the projected French sonnet. Observe that he 
introduces it by saying: "Here is what I had written for a 
sort of induction," not "have," as though he had just com- 
posed it, but "had," which is, I think, pretty conclusive 
proof that the lines were old work. There is also another, 
what we may call a psychological, suggestion here. Keats 
was reading Ronsard in September, 1818, and it was in the 
very letter to Reynolds of September twenty-first of that 
year, the one in which he speaks of relapsing into "those 
abstractions which are my only life," that he copies his 
translation of one of Ronsard's sonnets. Now, a year later, 
he is musing on a sonnet to be written "in french of Ron- 
Sard " and suddenly he is reminded of what he was writing 
the year before just when he was reading Ronsard, it was 



344 JOHN KEATS 

the beginning of the Vision, whereupon he goes back to 
his old manuscript again and copies this beginning for 
Woodhouse. Is it not possible that we have in this re- 
miniscence, if not the actual date, at least one only a few 
days subsequent to it, of his first putting pen to paper on 
the subject of Hyperion, for it was also on September 
twenty-first, 1818, that he wrote the letter to Dilke which 
I gave as the first witness to my argument? In Poems H y l 
Woodhouse refers to some lines of Ronsard in connection 
with a certain passage in Hyperion* so that Ronsard's 
connection with the subject is not a mere figment of my 
fancy. It is obvious that his reading of the Vision was 
subsequent to his writing to Reynolds, or he would cer- 
tainly have asked Reynolds to look over that poem and 
mark it also. We know that he wrote to Reynolds before 
he wrote to Woodhouse since he tells Woodhouse so. That 
Keats did some work on the Vision during the late Autumn 
seems undoubted. Brown can hardly have been entirely 
mistaken on that score, but it must have been largely 
revision, for the fragment ends with the sixty-third line of 
the Second Canto. That he did revise the poem is evident 
from the fact that the lines here given from Canto I are not 
exactly like the corresponding lines in the version pub- 
lished by Lord Houghton. 8 It is perhaps suggestive of 
their immediate origin that the lines from Canto II do 
not differ at all from those printed, although I admit that 
this is equally true of the induction. What prevented 
the completion of the Vision was just what prevented 
the completion of the Eve of St. Mark lack of vital 
energy. 

After the publication of this "lost" letter in the Me- 
morial Volume, both Sir Sidney Colvin and Professor de 

1 Crewe Collection. 

2 Quoted in the Addenda to the Notes of Professor de Selincourt's The 
Poems of John Keats. Fourth Edition. 

8 Bibliographical and Historical Miscellanies of the Philobiblon Society. 
(1856-1857) Vol. III. 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 345 

S61incourt went on record l as believing the Vision to have 
been entirely written at Winchester. This I emphatically 
do not believe. If Keats had started a new version of his 
poem in Winchester, any considerable part of a new version, 
he would without doubt have mentioned the fact to George 
to whom he had been speaking of the progress of the poem 
from time to time. He did not mention the ode To Autumn, 
but that he considered a short poem which he could copy 
later, while anything so important as a fresh start on his 
epic would hardly have been accidentally omitted or 
casually ignored. That Brown thought the Vision to be a 
new thing in the Autumn, merely means that Keats had 
not told him of the earlier version begun at Well Walk. I 
do not think that he wrote all that we have of the Second 
Canto at Winchester, I believe he only began it. As to his 
evening work in the Autumn, it seems to me quite probable 
that he worked a little at both versions. Whatever he did, 
it was very little. 

It is extremely difficult, not to say impossible, to deal at 
all adequately with Hyperion, not knowing just how much 
of the Vision was written at Well Walk and how much was 
done in the Autumn of 1819. The only approach to a de- 
finite fact which we have, is that Hyperion itself appears 
to have all been written during the Winter of 1818-19 at 
Wentworth Place. The more we come to examine it, the 
clearer it seems, that Hyperion was the direct result of the 
scathing criticisms in Blackwood's and the Quarterly, but 
in a way just the reverse of the old accepted view. Keats's 
original idea, as we see by the Vision, was to show a poet 
questioning himself, his vocation, demanding of the past 
where he and his kind stand in the scheme of things. Of 
what value are he and his work? It is really much the same 
idea which he had speculated on to Bailey in his letter from 
Burford Bridge the Autumn before, and again, under a 
somewhat changed aspect, to Taylor from Shanklin. The 

1 Letters to the Manchester Guardian. September 22, 1922. 



346 JOHN KEATS 

poet can attain to the possibility of great poetry only by 
scaling the height of the ideal, the far-rising shrine of his 
personal, dedicated life. He must lose much to gain more, 
parts of his ego must perish that sublimer parts may rule. 
This last idea is given in the form of a symbolical dream, in 
which the older gods are dethroned and overcome by their 
more human and beautiful counterparts, the hierarchy of 
Grecian mythology. All this comes precious near to being 
allegory, but luckily never quite gets there. It does not 
get there because Keats was working with two entirely 
separate themes; one, the question of the poet's value to 
humanity; the other, a mythological narrative, full of 
grandeur certainly, but vague in outline, and although 
capable of many implications, explicit in none. The Vision 
was begun fairly in the teeth of the reviews, that must be 
fully understood; it was not abandoned until some months 
later. But why was it abandoned at all ? That is the im- 
portant question. 

I think that when Keats, in December, at Wentworth 
Place, went back to the poem, he was suddenly struck with 
the fact that his beginning opened itself to some of the 
same strictures which had been made on Endymion. This, 
he felt, must not be, his next epic should in no way fall foul 
of any of the objections which had been made to the earlier 
poem. There should be nothing pretty in this new effort, 
all should be large, stern, of a sweeping and majestic ut- 
terance. He would show the world that "good Johnny 
Keats" was capable of the grand style if ever poet was, and 
promptly started to remodel his poem and write it as a 
drama only, a gigantic, impersonal drama, symbolical for 
those who searched for symbols, a surging, fulminating tale 
to those who did not. 

Keats's sheer cleverness is to be seen in no other poem to 
anything like the extent it is in Hyperion. That he could 
write it, is a marvel. For a poet to write such excellent 
poetry as so much of Hyperion is, in a purely adopted style, 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 347 

is a tour de force of the first order. Hyperion is a failure, 
not because it is not good, but because it is not honest. 
Keats is not speaking with his own voice, this sedate and 
stately pattern is none of his, there is no settled conviction 
here. This is merely a tracing from a pattern of an older 
age, and tracings are not genuine art no matter how deftly 
they are done. 

Precisely why Keats has had so immense an effect upon 
succeeding generations is that he represents an original 
inspiration. He gave a new direction to poetry, and this 
direction, chiefly through his disciple Tennyson, has until 
very recently dominated English verse. Even now, when 
the many feeble imitations of his manner have brought 
about a temporary lull in the popularity of his idiom, a 
modern student can find much of the most evident of 
present-day trends in his poems. It is the simplicity of his 
verse, the perfectly straightforward diction of much of it, 
the vividness of this diction, the directness of his attack, 
the fearlessness of his innovations, for which we value him 
most in this early twentieth century. 

What Keats tried to do in Hyperion, Milton did better; 
what he tried to do in the odes, in La Belle Dame Sans 
Merci, in the Eve of St. Agnes and the Eve of St. Mark, 
diverse as these poems are to one another, no one has ever 
approached. He gave up Hyperion because he could not 
make it fit with his growing interests, and when, at Win- 
chester, he examined it again, he was instantly conscious 
that this was no work for him. In saying to George: "I 
wish to devote myself to another verse alone," he is telling 
us all we need to know. 

But why, my readers may ask, did Keats put no such 
definite ban on the evidently inferior Vision} The an- 
swer is that at least the Vision was an autochthonous 
utterance. This was the poem he had himself conceived 
and partly composed. Seeing it so, he felt it might not be 
impossible to resurrect and revise it, saving some of the 



348 JOHN KEATS 

best parts of Hyperion by its means, but shearing them 
of the tang of archaism. As an illustration of what I mean, 
take the line of Hyperion: 

" Came slope upon the threshold of the West." 

This, in the Vision^ is altered to the far simpler and less 
tortured: 

" Is sloping to the threshold of the West." 

Keats read, and liked, his description of the Temple of 
Saturn. Much excellent work accomplished in the past 
year had emboldened him to snap his fingers at the reviews. 
They could no longer worry him even to the extent of 
making him wish to write in a way which would be un- 
assailable. He would write as he pleased and what he 
pleased. If he wrote the story of Hyperion at all, it should 
be done as his imagination dictated. The man who was to 
be the great precursor of modern poetry was beginning to 
know himself a little, and this knowledge taught him that 
erudite copies are no part of the equipment of a major 
poet. 

There is much that might be said of both Hyperion and 
the Vision^ but this is not the place for a comparative study 
of the two poems; space forbids, and we must return to the 
Woodhouse letter before the thread of it is quite lost. 

Keats's criticism of himself is very interesting, and so is 
his comparison of the Pot of Basil, Lamia and the Eve of 
St. Agnes. I think no better description of the Pot of Basil 
has ever been made than his: " ' A weak-sided Poem' with 
an amusing sober-sadness about it." 

One point which he touches whimsically upon in his 
letter had in reality no whimsicality about it. He had not 
received any answers to the letters he had written Brown. 
His suspicious nature took serious alarm, which he expresses 
humorously enough, but which was nevertheless only half 
a joke. What on earth was the matter? Why did not 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 349 

Brown answer? Brown was in Ireland, consummating his 
illegal marriage, but Keats was ignorant of that. He was 
particularly anxious to hear from Brown, as he wanted his 
opinion and agreement to the plan he mentions to Wood- 
house, that of living in Westminster and doing hack-work 
for the magazines. 

It was a plan which he had been gradually fixing upon 
ever since his return to Winchester, and the special why of 
it sprang from a fantastic sense of responsibility in regard 
to George. Here is Keats, hopelessly out of pocket, deeply 
in debt, definitely engaged to be married, and yet he feels 
it incumbent on him to say to his brother: 

" If I cannot remit you hundreds, I will tens, and if not 
that, ones ... To this end I will devote whatever I may 
gain for a few years to come, at which period I must begin 
to think of a security for my own comfort, when quiet will 
become more pleasant to me than the world." 

And, lest George should imagine that this entails a sac- 
rifice, he adds: 

" In all this do never think of me as in any way un- 
happy: I shall not be so. I have a great pleasure in think- 
ing of my responsibility to you, and shall do myself the 
greatest luxury if I can succeed in any way so as to be of 
assistance to you." 

Under the circumstances, this attitude was bizarre, to 
say the least; and he seems not to have been quite candid 
in his explanation of the matter to Fanny Brawne, or she 
misunderstood the facts. But we shall come to this later. 

So full was Keats of his plan, that, on this same Wednes- 
day, he wrote again to Brown and also to Dilke. To the 
latter, he made a request. Would Dilke look up a lodging 
for him; he is determined to do "anything but Mortgage 
my Brain to Blackwood," and he is going to start immedi- 
ately, for, he says with vigorous emphasis: 



350 JOHN KEATS 

" Wait for the issue of this Tragedy? No there cannot 
be greater uncertainties east, west, north, and south than 
concerning dramatic composition. How many months 
must I wait! Had I not better look about me now? ... I 
have no trust whatever on Poetry. I don't wonder at it 
the marvel is to me how people read so much of it." 

To Brown, Keats is positively wistful, detailing his 
reasons for his decision and begging his friend to approve 
of his plan. He goes into the facts, and his attitude toward 
them, much more fully than he does to Woodhouse or 
Dilke: 

"It is quite time I should set myself doing something, 
and live no longer upon hopes. I have never yet exerted 
myself. I am getting into an idle-minded, vicious way of 
life, almost content to live upon others. In no period of my 
life have I acted with any self-will but in throwing up the 
apothecary prefession. That I do not repent of ... I have 
not known yet what it is to be diligent. I purpose living in 
town in a cheap lodging, and endeavouring, for a begin- 
ning, to get the theatricals of some paper . . . Look on my 
side of the question. I am convinced I am right . . . And 
here I will take an opportunity of making a remark or two 
on our friendship, and on all your good offices to me. I 
have a natural timidity of mind in these matters; liking 
better to take the feeling between us for granted, than to 
speak of it. But, good God! what a short while you have 
known me! ... You have been living for others more than 
any man I know ... I had got into a habit of mind of look- 
ing towards you as a help in all difficulties. This very habit 
would be the parent of idleness and difficulties. You will 
see it as a duty I owe myself to break the neck of it. I do 
nothing for my subsistance make no exertion. At the 
end of another year you shall applaud me, not for verses, 
but for conduct. 1 * 

By Thursday, September twenty-third, Brown had re- 
turned from Ireland and gone to old Mr. Dilke's at Chi- 
chetser, where he received four letters from Keats "all in a 



A TIDE AND ITS UNDERTOW 351 

lump." He explained his silence by the prevarication that 
he had left Bedhampton for Chichester while Keats was 
still directing to the former place. 

Brown told Lord Houghton that the tone of Keats's 
letters brought him at once to Winchester, but his coming 
was not so immediate as to preclude his sending his un- 
candid explanation of the reason of his silence to Keats by 
letter. When he did come, however, he felt constrained to 
agree that Keats was wise in his decision to try and find 
some remunerative work, but he strenuously opposed the 
Westminster part of the scheme, alleging how much he 
should miss Keats from Wentworth Place. What arguments 
Keats used to persuade him, whether he hinted at the 
disturbing proximity of Fanny Brawne or not, we do not 
know. The part of his letter which seems to contain this 
information was carefully expunged by Brown before giv- 
ing the letter to Lord Houghton. That he was brought 
round to Keats's way of thinking in the end, is evident 
from another letter to Dilke, written on Friday, October 
first. Here Keats says specifically: "I want you to hire me 
a couple of rooms (a Sitting Room and bed room for my- 
self alone) in Westminster." Toward the end of the letter, 
he assures Dilke that he and Brown will "be returned by 
next Friday." On Sunday, he was so generous as to write 
to Haydon in answer to a letter from that gentleman 
accusing him of silence. Keats does not mention a syllable 
of Haydon's defection in not repaying the loan, but says 
nice things about his pictures, and asks him to try and 
procure a ticket to the British Museum, which, Keats 
assures him, he shall make better use of than he did "in 
the first instance." To Haydon, he says that he shall not 
be in Winchester "more than a Week more," but I think 
the date given to Dilke is probably the correct one to 
ascribe to his return. At any rate, on some day between the 
first and the tenth of October, Keats and Brown turned 
their backs on Winchester and hied them to London, 



352 JOHN KEATS 

Brown to Hampstead, Keats to 25 College Street, West- 
minster, where Dilke had found him rooms according to 
specifications. Keats was in high spirits, his sore throat 
had temporarily gone, and he felt himself strong and girded 
for a great undertaking. A greater than he knew, poor 
fellow! With the closing of the Winchester chapter, life 
as he had known it hitherto came to an abrupt end. 



CHAPTER XII 
ILLNESS 

THE probabilities are in favour of its having been on 
Friday, October eighth, that Keats took possession of his 
College Street lodgings, and there is every likelihood that 
it was on the very next day, Saturday, that Severn dropped 
in to see him and welcome him back to town. Severn has 
recorded that, on this occasion, he found Keats in high 
spirits, full of energy and animation. Keats read Hyperion 
to him (evidently the Wentworth Place version, not the 
Vision)^ and he appears to have read it chiefly for the pur- 
pose of getting Severn's reaction to its style. Severn, who 
was an ardent Miltonian, "delighted immeasurably in 
'Hyperion,'" 1 but said that Keats "seemed much more 
taken up with a rhymed story about a serpent-girl," 
which was, of course, Lamia. Severn praised Hyperion for 
its Mil tonic flavour, which only served to confirm Keats in 
his opinion that he had been on the wrong tack in writing 
it. He told Severn succinctly that he did not want to 
write a poem "that might have been written by John 
Milton, but one that was unmistakably written by no 
other than John Keats." 

On Sunday, Keats did the most natural thing in the 
world, he went out to Hampstead, and he and Fanny 
Brawne met once more. The meeting was decisive. The 
sorely tried girl was overjoyed to see her lover again, and 
was kindness itself to him. Even Keats could have no 
doubt of her love and constancy after the greeting she ac- 
corded him, and the very sight of her was enough to banish 
all his morbid intentions of weaning himself away from her. 
He simply fell head over heels in love with her again, or, to 
be more exact, his feeling for her, which he had been at 
such pains to smother with a host of other claims and im- 

1 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



354 JOHN KEATS 

portunities, rose swiftly to the surface once more, scatter- 
ing every other interest to the four winds. To Keats, 
starved, lonely, troubled, the day was nothing short of 
divine. He came back to the empty lodgings at College 
Street in the evening and at once wrote a sonnet. This 
sonnet can have been no other than The day is gone ', and all 
its sweets are gone, since it corresponds exactly to the senti- 
ments he expressed in a note to Miss Brawne written the 
next day, Monday. Lord Houghton, in printing it, gave the 
date as "1819," and there cannot be the faintest doubt 
that its complete date is October tenth, 1819. Here is the 
sonnet: 

"The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone! 

Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand, and softer breast, 
Warm breath, light whisper, tender semi-tone, 

Bright eyes, accomplished shape, and lang'rous waist! 
Faded the flower and all its budded charms, 

Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes, 
Faded the shape of beauty from my arms, 

Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise 
Vanish 'd unseasonably at shut of eve, 

When the dusk holiday or holinight 
Of fragrant-curtain'd love begins to weave 

The woof of darkness thick, for hid delight; 
But, as I've read love's missal through to-day, 
He'll let me sleep, seeing I fast and pray." 

Not among Keats's best sonnets no, but certainly 
among the most pathetic that have ever been written. For 
a man of Keats's temperament to have gone off alone after 
such a day, was a terrible strain; and the quiet and noble 
way in which he faced his destiny was magnificent. His 
letter tells the same story, but in a somewhat more tem- 
pered form: 

"Mv SWEET GIRL, 

I am living today in yesterday: I was in a complete 
fascination all day. I feel myself at your mercy. Write me 



ILLNESS 355 

ever so few lines and tell me you will never for ever be less 
kind to me than yesterday. You dazzled me. There is 
nothing in the world so bright and delicate . . . When shall 
we pass a day alone? I have had a thousand kisses, for 
which with my whole soul I thank love but if you should 
deny me the thousand and first 'twould put me to the 
proof how great a misery I could live through ... I have 
seen Mrs. Dilke this morning; she says she will come with 
me any fine day. 

Ever yours 

JOHN KEATS. 
Ah hert&mine!" 

There is no mention of the sonnet in this letter, which 
looks as though Keats did not send it to Miss Brawne. It 
said so much, too much for him to say to her, he may very 
well have thought. This was the early nineteenth century, 
remember; and Fanny Brawne was only just nineteen and 
a carefully nurtured girl of the straight-laced middle class. 
How scrupulously Keats guarded her innocence is evident 
in all his letters to her. Once only did he commit an indis- 
cretion, and that was when illness had sapped both his 
judgment and his will. 

Fanny Brawne immediately sent him the assurance he 
craved; it came two days later, while he was writing to her 
again. I do not propose to give any more of Keats 's letters 
to Miss Brawne during this period than are absolutely 
necessary to a clear understanding of his situation, mental 
and physical. They can be read in full in Buxton Forman's 
editions. Certain extracts, however, I must give, and give 
with some completeness. This is a part of what he wrote on 
Wednesday, October thirteenth: 

"Mv DEAREST GIRL, 

This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out 
fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must 
write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismiss- 
ing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my 
Soul I can think of nothing else. The time is passed when I 



356 JOHN KEATS 

had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising 
morning of my Life. My love has made me selfish. I cannot 
exist without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing 
you again my Life seems to stop there I see no further. 
You have absorbed me. I have a sensation at the present 
moment as though I was dissolving I should be ex- 
quisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I 
should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My 
sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will 
it? I have no limit now to my love . . . Your note came in 
just here. I cannot be happier away from you. 'Tis richer 
than an Argosy of Pearles . . . You have ravish *d me away 
by a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could resist till I saw 
you ; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured 
often ' to reason against the reasons of my Love/ I can do 
so no more the pain would be too great. My love is 
selfish. I cannot breathe without you. 

Yours for ever 
JOHN KEATS." 

Keats, as I have tried to show in the last chapter, was in 
no state to bear undue excitement of any kind. His dread 
of the fever of composition was forcing itself upon his con- 
sciousness, and if the composition of poetry were a strain, 
what must the agitation of thwarted love have been. Yet, 
even thwarted, love had its comforts, and these he craved 
with his whole soul. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that no 
one living in such a mental turmoil was in a fit condition 
to tramp up and down the pavement of Grub Street seek- 
ing employment. All he could do, poor moth, was to flut- 
ter back to the proximity of his candle. On Friday, he 
journeyed to Hampstead again, and this time he made a 
stay of three days with Brown. Why Buxton Forman and 
Sir Sidney Colvin persist in believing that he stayed with 
the Brawnes, I cannot imagine, unless they derive their 
opinion from some source which I have not consulted. On 
Saturday, October sixteenth, he wrote to his sister. He 
dates the letter simply "Wentworth Place," but in it he 
says: 



ILLNESS 357 

44 1 took lodgings in Westminster for the purpose of being 
in the reach of Books, but am now returned to Hampstead 
being induced to it by the habit I have acquired in this 
room I am now in and also from the pleasure of being free 
from paying any petty attentions to a diminutive house- 
keeping." 

He had acquired no habit of being in any room at the 
Brawnes'. It is his old room at Brown's to which he re- 
fers. The reasons given to his sister were not his real 
reasons, however much he may have tried to induce himself 
to believe in their importance; but they were very likely 
the reasons he adduced to Brown, who was only too glad 
to get him back on any terms. He does not seem to have 
told Fanny Brawne of his change of plan while he was 
at Hampstead, yet he appears to have contemplated it 
before going out. He even seems to have paid off his 
College Street landlady after a week under her roof, for, 
when he went back to town, he put up with the Dilkes 
in Great Smith Street; at least, it was from there that he 
wrote to Fanny Brawne on Tuesday morning. In this 
letter, we see Keats determined upon his course, but rather 
miserably aware of what that course entailed: 

"Mv SWEET FANNY, 

On awaking from my three days dream ( 4 1 cry to dream 
again') I find one and another astonished at my idleness 
and thoughtlessness. I was miserable last night the 
morning is always restorative. I must be busy, or try to 
be so. I have several things to speak to you of tomorrow 
morning. Mrs. Dilke I should think will tell you that I 
purpose living at Hampstead. I must impose chains upon 
myself. I shall be able to do nothing. I should like to cast 
the die for Love or death. I have no Patience with any- 
thing else . . . my mind is in a tremble, I cannot tell what I 
am writing. 

Ever my love yours 
JOHN KEATS." 



358 JOHN KEATS 

The tenor of this letter means that Keats was profoundly 
disappointed with himself. He believed that he was spine- 
lessly allowing himself to follow the line of least resistance, 
that he was permitting the immediate necessity he felt to 
be near Miss Brawne to unnerve him from doing the only 
thing which could bring them permanently together. He 
saw himself playing the sentimental fool instead of getting 
up and going about his work like a sensible fellow. He saw 
his grandiloquent purpose of being self-supporting vanish 
from him like an ever more distantly floating soap-bubble, 
while all he did was to stand agape, enraptured by its irides- 
cent colours. But here Keats did himself a gross injustice. 
It was not Fanny Brawne, it was not even love, which kept 
him inert during these days. It was his health. He did not 
march boldly into the offices of one or another newspaper 
and request a job at reviewing a play, or set his pen to 
scratching over paper at something which was, if nothing 
else, at any rate saleable. Little fitted as he was for tasks 
like these, he might at least have made a try at them. It 
was his health which kept him quiescent. He simply could 
not do what he had planned; he had not the strength. He 
had exhausted himself with his Summer's work. The 
poetic urge which had kept him up through the Winchester 
days might have held out a little longer if he had not so 
soon touched the fire of renewed sexual passion, I freely ad- 
mit that. But he had touched it, and under the circum- 
stances probably the wisest course for him to pursue was 
the one he took. His waning energy could not have been 
triumphant for very long, in any case, and we may be very 
sure that it could never have survived any attempt at 
work which was not poetry. 

It is quite natural that his friends, who understood no- 
thing, neither the force of his love, nor the devastating effect 
of his disease, who did not, indeed, realize the presence of 
disease at all, should have been "astonish'd" at finding all 
his vigorous talk spend itself in melancholy brooding. It 



ILLNESS 359 

was they, and their astonishment, which did him harm. 
His only hope lay in peace and idleness, and they urged 
him to fresh endeavour. It was this terrible, goading as- 
tonishment which heralded his first haemorrhage. 

Keats's illness was dual in kind. He had pulmonary tu- 
berculosis and laryngeal tuberculosis. The former had not 
yet shown itself by any symptoms which Keats had de- 
tected; the latter had been in evidence for two years, but 
the doctors whom Keats had consulted had failed to recog- 
nize it. If my readers will turn back to Chapter VI, and 
read once more Dr. Hawes's 1 letter on the subject, they will 
understand the situation perfectly and realize how very long 
it was since Keats had been a well man. Accredited apoth- 
ecary and surgeon though he was, he failed to read his own 
symptoms correctly, and scourged himself for his want of 
moral purpose when he might more justly have plumed 
himself on having kept at work so long. To add the last 
straw to his general debility, he suddenly gave up eating 
animal food, in order, he tells his sister Fanny, " that my 
brains may never henceforth be in a greater mist than is 
theirs by nature." No more mistaken course could have 
been adopted, nor one more speedily calculated to bring 
his fate upon him. 

Keats probably returned to Hampstead at once. His 
going back to Westminster at all was undoubtedly for 
some practical reason like seeing Abbey, or getting his 
luggage, what there was of it, which he may have deposited 
at the Dilkes' on giving up his lodgings. 

We have no more letters from Keats for a month, but 
certain side winds have blown us a little information con- 
cerning the interval. One of these emanates from Severn, 
who gets his dates wrong, since he appears to be referring 
to the Sunday a week after his call at College Street, which 
cannot possibly be the case. On the other hand, it is ex- 
tremely likely that the Sunday he speaks of was the first 

* See Vol. I, p. 514. 



360 JOHN KEATS 

after Keats's definite return to Wentworth Place. Severn, 
on the Sunday in question, went out to Hampstead to see 
Keats again, on which occasion he found him "well neither 
in mind nor in body, with little of the happy confidence 
and resolute bearing of a week earlier; while alternating 
moods of apathetic dejection and spasmodic gaiety ren- 
dered him a companion somewhat difficult to humour/' 1 
However violent Keats's struggle with himself may have 
been, however tantalizing and over-exciting he may have 
found his constant intercourse with Fanny Brawne, we 
cannot but see that, of a choice of evils, living close to her 
at Brown's was the lesser, for he began to write almost as 
soon as he was settled in his old quarters. Otho was still 
being copied by the indefatigable Brown, and the friends 
had every hope of placing it at Drury Lane as soon as it 
was ready to submit to the powers who ruled the destinies 
of that theatre. So strong were their hopes of it, that it 
seemed to the two young men that Keats could not do 
better than to start on another play at once. Brown told 
the story of Keats's second attempt at drama writing to 
Lord Hough ton in these words: 

2 "As soon as Keats had finished 'Otho the Great,' I 
pointed out to him a subject for an English historical 
tragedy in the reign of Stephen, beginning with his defeat 
by the Empress Maud and ending with the death of his son 
Eustace. He was struck with the variety of events and 
characters which must necessarily be introduced, and I 
offered to give, as before, their dramatic conduct. 'The 
play must open,' I began, 'with the field of battle, when 
Stephen's forces are retreating' 'Stop/ he cried, ' I have 
been too long in leading strings; I will do all this myself/ 
He immediately set about it, and wrote two or three 
scenes." 

Sir Sidney Colvin thinks that Brown's suggestion was 

1 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 

1 Quoted by Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



ILLNESS 361 

made, and the "two or three scenes " (actually four) 
written, in Winchester, but that he is in error here seems 
evident from the fact that the manuscript, of which five 
folio leaves are in Keats's handwriting and three quarto 
leaves in Brown's, 1 is carefully dated by Brown "Nov. 
1819." Moreover there is in existence a copy of Selden's 
Titles of Honour * purchased by Keats in 1819, clearly in 
order to have constantly by him a reference book as to the 
usages, civil and military, of the period. Surely, if Keats 
had been at such pains to inform himself on the subject in 
Winchester, some of his letters from there, full of his work 
as they are, would have mentioned it, and none of them do. 
On the flyleaves of this volume, Keats started a method- 
ical index to speed his labours, and that he intended to refer 
to it frequently we see by his having re-numbered various 
pages which are wrongly numbered in the text. Buxton 
Forman owned this book, but seems not to have under- 
stood its connection with the fragment of King Stephen. 
I owe my realization of it to my friend, Professor John 
Livingston Lowes, who made the important discovery 
one evening at my house when we were examining the 
book. 

Keats's annotations, which are few, are all in Chapter V, 
which deals with the English titles of Lords, etc. These 
annotations, meagre as they are, are very interesting. For 
instance, it was probably as a guide for certain possible 
speeches that Keats marked: "for in those times the 
affectation of making words out of that little Greek they 
had was frequent here in England." We find him index- 
ing "Atheling" and "Reliefs," under which latter head- 
ing we read this important pointer: "An Earl's Relief 
is eight Horse, four saddled and four unsaddled, four 
Helms, four Coats of Mail, four Spears, as many Shields, 
four Swords, CC [two hundred] Marks of Gold." Keats 
underscored a long passage descriptive of the word "Bel- 

1 Buxton Forman. 2 Author's Collection. 



362 JOHN KEATS 

house," and he also annotated the suggestive words: "Deo 
& beato ,/Ethelwoldo." As to matters directly bearing upon 
King Stephen, there is on page 536 a passage which reads: 
"Neither is this Charter against those that say King Ste- 
phen created him. The Civil Warrs of that time are well 
known. And this Lord being sometimes of the Queen's 
part, sometimes of King Stephen's, was created, it seems, 
by both as some others were." Here Keats has underlined: 
"was created, it seems, by both as some others were," and 
put a cross against it in the margin. 1 

It is not only in the scored passages that we find refer- 
ences which might have been valuable to Keats; but we 
must not expect, in the very short fragment which is all 
that Keats wrote of the play, to find these references in 
direct use. Keats apparently intended to employ the vol- 
ume both as a dictionary and a creator of atmosphere. One 
direct allusion we do find, however; it derives from two un- 
annotated passages which are to this effect the first is in 
reference to King Stephen's crown: "King Stephen also in 
both [seal and coins], hath only a like Crown fleurie"; the 
second speaks of the titles, "Duke of Cornwal and Earl of 
Chester," as sometimes given with that of Prince of Wales. 
Now, in Scene I of King Stephen, Keats wrote: 

" Not twenty Earls of Chester shall browbeat 
The diadem." 

In King Stephen, Keats was plainly imitating Shake- 
speare in his historical plays. Not intentionally, we may 
be sure, but because, in dealing with such a subject in such 
a form, his mind fell naturally into the attitude and ca- 
dences of the poet whose work in the genre he had studied 
with such care. Keats had managed to free himself from 
imitation in his poems, but drama was too new a vehicle 
for him to have tracked his own way in it as yet. Still King 
Stephen, in spite of its too slavish adherence to a model, 

1 For complete list of annotations, see Appendix C. 



ILLNESS 363 

has much beauty, and the model itself was far more in- 
digenous to Keats than Milton's Paradise Lost had been. 
The first three scenes are really extraordinarily good. In a 
half-a-dozen speeches, Keats establishes a distinct charac- 
ter for his Stephen; and the Duke of Glocester, although 
drawn with a slighter line, stamps himself as a man and 
not an effigy. The bustle and shock of battle is excellently 
given, and however one may regret the fact that Keats 
conceived his play as a thing of echoes, one must admit 
that the echoes are superlatively well done. Is not this 
good? 

"Now may we lift our bruised vizors up, 
And take the flattering freshness of the air, 
While the wide din of battle fades away 
Into times past." 



Or this? 



"... He sole and lone maintains 
A hopeless bustle mid our swarming arms, 
And with a nimble savageness attacks." 

Or this again: 

"He shames our victory. His valour still 
Keeps elbow-room amid our eager swords." 

Yes, there is much excellence here; but, after all, Keats 
is writing to a pattern, even if the pattern would have 
perfectly suited him had he been his own great-great- 
grandfather. For, as has often been pointed out, Keats and 
Shakespeare are cousins german in their poetic points of 
view, however much the older poet surpassed the younger. 
It is a curious commentary on Keats's natural diction 
when in the heat of his story that the lines: 

"Another sword! And what if I could seize 
One from Bellona's gleaming armoury," 



364 JOHN KEATS 

were originally written: 

"Another Sword! for one short minute longer 
That I might pepper that De Kaims." 

There is a marked falling off in the Fourth Scene, laid 
in Queen Maud's Presence Chamber. We feel that Keats 
approached it with a flagging interest; and with the scene 
the fragment ends. 

We may urge our perspicacity to its utmost, and spec- 
ulate among various even chances, as to just why Keats 
abandoned his play then and there. The reasons so evoked 
inability to face the imaginative strain imposed by a 
long play, insufficiency of atmosphere in Selden to provoke 
his inventive faculty, a scene laid in a period too remote for 
intimacy, not remote enough for romance, a sudden change 
of mood, the realization that he was extremely ignorant of 
the technique of dramatic composition are all cogent, 
but none of them seem decisive. Probably there was a 
little of all of them in his action. At any rate, the play re- 
mained a fragment. 

With the breaking down of King Stephen, Brown found 
himself once more at a loss as to what to suggest which 
would interest his friend and at the same time have a bear- 
ing on the exchequer, and he could not help seeing that it 
must be something which Keats could do without too much 
mental strain and with no emotional exactions whatever. 
He himself delighted in fairy stories, and both he and Keats 
were possessed of keen senses of humour. Satire, humour, 
and fairies what a piquant combination! Lord Byron 
had just swept the reading world off its feet with the auda- 
cities of Don Juan. Why should not Keats dash off a pot- 
boiler in the form of a joke, which would be a lark to write, 
and might just might, mind you tickle the public 
fancy, and put some convenient guineas into Keats's 
empty pockets ? How much of this he told Keats, we do 
not know, probably not all. But he could not help seeing 



ILLNESS 365 

that Keats's real work was not getting on, and he may very 
well have urged his scheme as a relief and antithesis. Of 
the circumstances of the genesis and composition of the 
Cap and Bells, Brown wrote: 

1 "By chance our conversation turned on the idea of a 
comic faery poem in the Spenser stanza, and I was glad to 
encourage it. He had not composed many stanzas before 
he proceeded in it with spirit. It was to be published under 
the feigned authorship of Lucy Vaughan Lloyd and to bear 
the title of the Cap and Bells, or, which he preferred, The 
Jealousies. This occupied his mornings pleasantly. He 
wrote it with the greatest facility; in one instance I re- 
member having copied (for I copied as he wrote) as many 
as twelve stanzas before dinner." 

When Lord Hough ton printed the poem in 1848, he ap- 
pended to it a note by Brown which reads: 

"This Poem was written subject to future amendments 
and omissions: it was begun without a plan, and without 
any prescribed laws for the supernatural machinery." 

Here was Keats, then, during the first weeks of Novem- 
ber, spending his mornings with Brown in the sitting-room 
which opened on the garden, writing the Cap and Bells 
easily and with the utmost speed; and passing his evenings 
alone in his own study, forcing himself to the revision of 
the Vision of Hyperion, changing certain passages culled 
out of Hyperion with little dexterity, putting down a word, 
scratching it out, trying for lines, for a continuation which 
would not come, cudgelling his brains for a subject which 
should free him from his paralysing lassitude, eternally 
obsessed with the thought of his apparently hopeless fu- 
ture where marriage was concerned doing all these 
things, but most of the time doing nothing but suffer 

1 Quoted from The Poems of John Keats, edited by E. de Selincourt. 
The passage also appears in Sir Sidney Colvin's short Life of Keats. English 
Men of Letters Series. 



366 JOHN KEATS 

suffer suffer at the terrible inertia he could neither 
shake off nor rise above. 

If Keats were at a stand in his serious work, the Cap and 
Bells, on the other hand, flowed with remarkable swiftness, 
and at first he seemed to get a great deal of amusement 
from it. There are eighty-eight stanzas in the fragment of 
the Cap and Bells, but at the rate at which Brown reports 
Keats as writing it, that would represent only a little over 
a week's work. But the Cap and Bells was as powerless to 
chain his wandering attention as King Stephen had been. 
He did not definitely abandon it, even so late as the follow- 
ing August he seems to have had hopes of going on with it; 
but, the first rush of enthusiasm over, he began to weary 
and question, and wonder whether he had not better fish 
round for another large subject which would stimulate his 
serious imagination. On Wednesday, November seven- 
teenth, he wrote to Taylor of a new theme which he 
thought might do. He says: 

"I have come to a determination not to publish any- 
thing I have now ready written ; but for all that to publish 
a Poem before long and that I hope to make a fine one. As 
the marvellous is the most enticing and the surest guaran- 
tee of harmonious numbers I have been endeavouring to 
persuade myself to untether Fancy and to let her manage 
for herself. I and myself cannot agree about this at all. 
Wonders are no wonders to me. I am more at home 
amongst Men and women. I would rather read Chaucer 
than Ariosto. The little dramatic skill I may as yet have 
however badly it might show in a Drama would I think 
be sufficient for a Poem. I wish to diffuse the colouring of 
St. Agnes eve throughout a poem in which Character and 
Sentiment would be the figures to such drapery. Two or 
three such Poems, if God should spare me, written in the 
course of the next six years, would be a famous gradus ad 
Parnassum altissimum. I mean they would nerve me up 
to the writing of a few fine Plays my greatest ambition 
when I do feel ambitious. I am sorry to say that is very 
seldom. The subject we have once or twice talked of ap- 



ILLNESS 367 

pears a promising one, the Earl of Leicester's history. I 
am this morning reading Holingshed's Elizabeth. You had 
some Books awhile ago, you promised to lend me, illustra- 
tive of my subject. If you can lay hold of them or any 
others which may be serviceable to me I know you will 
encourage my low-spirited muse by sending them or 
rather by letting me know when our Errand cart Man shall 
call with my little Box. I will endeavour to set my self 
selfishly at work on this Poem that is to be. 11 

But he could not set himself to work on any such large 
undertaking. He was undoubtedly right in thinking his 
dramatic skill insufficient for a play, and wisely critical in 
believing that a dramatic poem might be within his com- 
pass, and yet, when one considers along what line, or lines, 
Keats's creative faculty most naturally and happily moved, 
one is inclined to doubt even that. One cannot but fail to 
see that the tether of history would have been a severe 
handicap to an imagination such as his. It is no matter 
either way, for Keats did nothing with the Earl of Lei- 
cester's history. No least scrap of any such poem has 
ever come to light. Keats had no longer the vitality to 
do more than work over poems already written, or pos- 
sibly, from time to time, add a stanza or two to the Cap 
and Bells. 

Keats lovers hitherto have been of one mind in their 
condemnation of the Cap and Bells. To Rossetti, it was 
" the to me hateful Cap and Bells." 1 Buxton Forman con- 
sidered it " entirely unworthy of Keats " and "a mere intel- 
lectual and mechanical exercise." Sir Sidney Colvin thinks 
that for Keats such a subject was "essentially against the 
grain," and Professor de Selincourt points out "how un- 
suitable the subject and treatment are to the essential 
character of his own genius." But are they? It seems to 
me that these devoted gentlemen are all determined to ig- 
nore one side of their idol. Immensely delighting in Keats's 

1 Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



3 68 JOHN KEATS 

lyric gift, they turn their eyes resolutely away from that 
other part of him which revelled in Burton's Anatomy of 
Melancholy, enjoyed the broad satire of Guzman d'Alfar- 
ache, and copied Brown's decidedly coarse tales at great 
length in his letters to George and Rice. Satire is seldom 
an attribute of youth, and that Keats was only on the 
threshold of this corner of his poetic domain, is true. But 
that he would have penetrated farther in this direction 
had he lived, it is impossible to doubt. Even Sir Sidney 
Colvin, on the last page of his Life of Keats, suggests this 
important query his paragraph in full reads: 

" Again, along with his admirable capacity for loyal de- 
votion and sympathy in friendship, we find in him ca- 
pacities of quite another kind, capacities for disillusion- 
ment and for seeing through and chafing at human and 
social shams and pretensions and absurdities; and we ask 
ourselves, would this strain in him, which we find expressed 
with a degree of pettish and premature cynicism, for 
instance in the Cap and Bells and in some of his later letters, 
have matured in time into a power either of virile satire or 
genial reconciling comedy? 7 ' 

Against the chorus of disapproval which his immediate 
descendants have fairly shouted over the Cap and Bells, it 
is strange to find a sympathetic word accorded to the poem 
from his contemporary, Lord Jeffrey, who, in a letter to 
Lord Houghton, after the publication of the latter's col- 
lected edition in 1848, wrote of the "strange outbursts of 
individual fancy and felicitous expressions in the 'Cap and 
Bells' though the general extravagance of the poetry is 
more suited to an Italian than to an English taste." 1 

Recent criticism has turned more favourable eyes on the 
Cap and Bells. We now see the poem as another of Keats's 
many experiments, and a very interesting one; and we 
recognize in it not only the rudiments of political and social 

1 Quoted by Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



ILLNESS 369 

satire, but an arrow pointing to Keats's multifarious read- 
ing along many lines, some of which we knew of, but some 
of which may very possibly have been overlooked. 

Keats undoubtedly took the main incident of his tale 
from the fairy episode in the Midsummer Night's Dream. 
Sir Sidney Colvin couples this with Southey's translation 
of Wieland's Oberon, which is very likely true, although we 
have no knowledge of Keats's having read that work. Be- 
sides these two sources, there was another ready to Keats's 
hand in the current gossip of the day, and the newspapers, 
both daily and weekly. England was just at this time buzz- 
ing with the quarrel between the Prince Regent and his 
wife, the unfortunate, and self-banished, Princess of 
Wales, in a few months to be the returned, but uncrowned, 
Queen Caroline. 

Had one unlimited space and all the time in the world at 
one's disposal, it would be amusing to trace Keats's vari- 
ous indebtednesses throughout the Cap and Bells> which 
has never been thoroughly done. As it is, we can merely 
glance at a few examples. Keats took the Spenserian 
stanza precisely because of its unsuitability for comic 
verse. This audacious act has called down upon him a 
whole hurricane of sighs from generations of shocked 
classicists; yet that he managed his intractable medium 
with much skill, cannot be denied by any one who has read 
the poem with an unprejudiced mind. But his stanza was 
not the only thing which Keats got from Spenser; he filched 
his fairy king directly from the Tenth Book of the Second 
Canto of the Faery Queene^ where Spenser gives a geneal- 
ogy of the fairy sovereigns, one of whom is " noble Elfinan." 
From Spenser too, Keats received the idea of placing his 
fairy realm in India, and calling its capital city Panthea. 
But Keats's Panthea hovers in the air, which Spenser's 
does not; for this attribute of the fairy Emperor's capital, 
Keats went to Drayton, 1 who, in the Nymphidea tells of 

1 Shakespeare and Keats, by Claude L. Finaey. 



370 JOHN KEATS 

the palace of "that proud Fairy King, Oberon," which, 
he says 

"... standeth in the air, 
By necromancy placed there, 
That it no tempests needs to fear 
Which way soe'er it blow it. 

When we come to the publisher Parpaglion and the 
alchemist and soothsayer Hum, we find Keats borrowing 
from various of Ben Jonson's plays. Not only is the curi- 
ous name Hum found in the Alchemist, where it is used 
as a cabalistic word by Subtle in an injunction to Dapper: 

". . . cry hum 
Thrise," 

but Keats seems to have taken his "Scarab Street" from 
the same source, for Subtle calls Face "Scarabe," as a 
term of opprobrium. Miss Yvonne Dusser, who wrote a 
most interesting letter to the Times Literary Supplement, 
some years ago, from which I have taken this detail, 
quotes from Greene's Planetomachia the following perti- 
nent sentence: "the baze minds of such as with the Scarab 
Flye, delighteth only to live in dung and mire," to which 
Miss Dusser adds: "Scarab Street thus seems a fit dwell- 
ing place for the publisher Parpaglion, a scandal-monger." 
Miss Dusser also notes that Ben Jonson "uses the word 
'hum' to satirize the talk of the puritans," and, consider- 
ing that Keats's Hum aids and abets the Fairy Elfinan in 
his illicit love affair with a mortal, the derivation seems 
obvious. 

It is also likely that Keats invented Crafticant's name 
with Jonson's Dame Purecraft from Bartholomew Fair in 
mind, and much of the alchemistical lore hinted at when 
the page, Eban, goes to Hum's house, points to the Al- 
chemist and very probably also to Chaucer in the Chanones 
Yemannes Tale. Besides these sources, there is a chance 



ILLNESS 371 

that Keats had happened across some old volumes of al- 
chemy and astrology. For references to the latter science, 
he had not only the poets, but Moore's Almanack, which 
is mentioned in the poem. 

Being somewhat interested in the possible sources of 
Keats's alchemical terms, apart from their literary deriva- 
tions, I asked my friend Mr. S. Foster Damon, 1 who has 
made a study of these things, to note them for me. His 
answer to my request gave the following: 

"Hum, one presumes, is an alchemist on account of his 
'furnace-scorched brow' (Stanza LVII); but what al- 
chemical terms he uses are more easily explained other- 
wise, and are so generally in use that it would be impossible 
to trace them to any definite source. 

Aqua vita (Stanza XXXHI) is a common alchemical 
term, meaning (i) the First Matter or (2) the Medicine 
prepared from the First Matter; but from the i6th century 
on it had been commonly applied to any form of ardent 
spirits prepared for drink. 

Nitre (Stanza XXXIII) is another word for salt-peter, 
common in alchemy, equally common in medicine. 

Venus (Stanza XXXIV) means copper in alchemy, but 
is here used astrologically. 

Mercury (Stanza LXIX) means quick-silver in alchemy, 
but is here used astrologically as the Protecting Influence 
over Thieves (this idea goes back to Greek mythology). 

These are all the terms which could possibly be inter- 
preted alchemically; but Keats probably used them quite 
otherwise. 

There are several other astrological terms: "cast a quiet 
figure" (Stanza XXXII) means to draw up a (quiet) 
horoscope. The chalk (Stanza XXXIII) was for this 
purpose. Stars and Zodiac (Stanza XXXIIl) are astro- 
logical. Other occult terms are gathered haphazard. 

Zendervester is the Zend Avesta (Stanza II). 

Grains of Paradise (Stanza XXXIIl) were cardamon 
seeds, used in medicine as spice mentioned by Chaucer 
and everyone after him. 
1 Author of William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols. 1924. 



372 JOHN KEATS 

Don't tell me what you want (Stanza XXXVI) a 
common trick of ancient magicians and modern seers. 
Vulgarly considered a test of supernatural powers when 
they can tell themselves. See in the Bible, the second 
chapter of the Book of Daniel, where Nebuchadnezzar 
planned to execute all the seers because they could not tell 
him the dream he had forgotten. 

I do not know what coming down stairs backwards in 
one shoe means (Stanza XXXIV) it sounds like a 
charlatan's trick. (Note reference to Mother Goose: 
'Diddle-diddle dumpling 1 .)" 

Yes, Keats went merrily to Mother Goose; and to hints 
of folk medical practices, in his "dentes sapientia of mice." 
Another interesting letter to the Times 1 goes at length into 
the prevalence of the use of mice as medical ingredients. 
The author, Mr. Donald A. Mackenzie, 2 says very perti- 
nently: "It may be that the poet heard something, dur- 
ing his wanderings, about the Highland mouse cures . . . 
He may have heard that the teeth of mice were worn as 
charms ... As mouse cures were as prevalent in England 
as in Scotland, it is possible, of course, that Keats may 
have heard of them from some rural patient in a London 
Hospital." Various parts of mice were used in these cures; 
but the importance of that rodent's "wisdom teeth" 
seems to have been Keats's own happy invention. 

For the political references in the Cap and Bells, Buxton 
Forman gives a few illustrations. He identifies the "square- 
cut chancellor" with Mr. Vansittart, and the " tiptoe mar- 
quis" with the Marquis of Lansdowne; but the most 
amusing of his discoveries is that which refers to "Esquire 
Biancopany." Keats's wit was delightfully employed in 
inventing his name, for Buxton Forman splits it into 
" Bianco white, pane bread," and proves beyond the 
shadow of a doubt that he is Mr. Whitbread, a violent rad- 



1 Times Literary Supplement, February 14, 1918. 
1 Author of Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe. 



ILLNESS 373 

ical, and an ardent adherent of the maligned Princess of 
Wales. 

The Cap and Bells is not so sparkling a skit as it ought 
to have been, and would have been had Keats been his 
normal self when he wrote it. Still, it is far from dull read- 
ing; the night flight, recorded in Crafticant's diary, is ex- 
tremely ingenious, while the description of the black 
slave, Eban, admiring himself and his gorgeous clothes re- 
flected in the "pearl-pav'd street" is quite irresistible. 
Keats is even witty at his own expense. The poet who can 
make fun of his own work is a very great poet indeed, and 
one blessed with an infinite sense of humour. Such a poet 
also knows that his serious work is unassailable. It im- 
plies no doubt of his Eve of St. Mark that he here treats it 
to a little gentle fooling by making Elfinan in love with a 
certain Bertha Pearl who lives in Canterbury. Among 
other sly digs at his real poem, Hum gives the Emperor a 
"legend-laden" book to take to Bertha, the sight of which 
is guaranteed to send her into a fainting fit at once. 

Viewed with unbiased eyes, the Cap and Bells is often 
clever and occasionally brilliant; but the most remarkable 
thing about it is that Keats, suffering and miserable as he 
was, could have written it at all, could have written any- 
thing in such a vein, and yet it was just this vein which 
kept him going. It turned his mind to merry things and 
kept it there during the hours of composition. But the 
time came, and, as we have seen, in a very few days, when 
he could no longer make the effort to free himself from 
himself. Every unproductive day showed him more plainly 
the coil which was weaving round him. He could not hope 
to marry without money, he could not get money unless he 
worked, and he could not work. I think, too, there is 
ample evidence to prove that Keats was beginning to fear 
that he was the victim of disease. His mother and Tom 
had both died of tuberculosis, and it would have been 
strange if the thought that he too might go the same way 



374 JOHN KEATS 

had not entered his head. But I do not think that at this 
time it had. I believe rather that he was not sure what he 
had. The doctors, when he consulted them about his throat 
as he was frequently forced to do, made no such suggestion, 
and he could hardly, with his inexperience of actual prac- 
tice, believe them totally wrong. Yet the thought of death 
hung constantly over him. A man in health does not say 
to his publisher that he will do thus and thus, if God should 
spare him. As the days went on, he sank lower and lower 
into gloom and dreary forebodings. But, since George's 
departure and Tom's death, he had lost the habit of easing 
himself of his griefs by talking about them. He could not 
speak, even to Brown; and Fanny Brawne was the last 
person to whom he could tell his fears in such a case, nat- 
urally. 

Brown has left an account of these miserable days as 
they appeared to him. He speaks of Keats's inability to 
work, of his penniless condition, of the blighting of all his 
hopes. Brown did his best to comfort, but what could he 
really do except lend his friend money, which he had done 
and continued doing at intervals. Here is a part of what 
he wrote concerning this time: 

X "A11 that a friend could say, or offer, or urge was not 
enough to heal his many wounds. He listened, and, in 
kindness, or soothed by kindness, showed tranquility, but 
nothing from a friend could relieve him, except on a matter 
of inferior trouble. He was too thoughtful or too unquiet; 
and he began to be reckless of health. Among other proofs of 
recklessness, he was secretly taking, at times, a few drops 
of laudanum to keep up his spirits. It was discovered by 
accident, and without delay revealed to me. He needed 
not to be warned of the danger of such a habit; but I re- 
joiced at his promise never to take another drop without 
my knowledge; for nothing could induce him to break his 
word when once given, which was a difficulty. Still, at 
the very moment of my being rejoiced, this was an addi- 
tional proof of his rooted misery. 11 

1 Quoted in Sir Sidney Colvin's Life of Keats. 



ILLNESS 375 

It was doubtless of this period that Haydon was speak- 
ing when he told his obvious lie a lie sprung from his 
immoral and incurable habit of exaggeration of Keats's 
flying to dissipation as a relief. "For six weeks," says 
Haydon, "he was scarcely sober"; an absolute untruth, as 
we have Brown's testimony to prove. Such a thing, had it 
been true, could not have been kept from Mrs. Brawne and 
Fanny, in the close intimacy in which the two households 
lived. And is it likely that Mrs. Brawne would have per- 
mitted, or Fanny desired, the engagement to continue 
under such circumstances? A man can hide the fact that 
he is taking mild doses of laudanum; but a drunken man 
under one's roof, even with the precaution of separate 
front doors, is something which very soon proclaims itself. 

The worst torture of Keats's condition was his growing 
jealousy of Fanny Brawne. One of the secondary symp- 
toms of tuberculosis is a tendency to suspicion; and Keats 
had always been of a suspicious nature. Now he had no 
sensible George, no understanding Tom, to reason him out 
of his false impressions. He was not yet so ill that he could 
not keep himself from blaming Fanny Brawne to Brown. 
He suffered alone and in silence, but he suffered with a fear- 
ful intensity. Two poems appear to belong to this period 
must, indeed, belong to it, for he does not seem to have 
written any poems after his first haemorrhage. Both these 
poems tell the same story. 

The first, known as Lines to Fanny, if we may take Lord 
Houghton's date, "October, 1819," as correct, must have 
been written shortly after his return to Hampstead. Bux- 
ton Forman attributes it to the College Street week, be- 
cause in Keats's letter from there to Miss Brawne, written 
on October thirteenth, he tells her that he has just been 
copying some verses out fair. But this I am sure is a mis- 
take. The letter is written in no such disconsolate mood as 
the poem, and in the poem Keats says that he has seen 
Miss Brawne only an hour before, which he certainly had 
not done on October thirteenth, nor even on the twelfth, 



376 JOHN KEATS 

nor the eleventh, and it could not have been written on the 
tenth, when he wrote The day is gone, for the mood of the 
Lines is utterly at variance with the mood of the sonnet, 
and that the latter mood held, the letter of the eleventh 
proves. Yet the Lines must have been written quite soon 
after he came back to Wentworth Place, for, although 
there is dejection in them, there is no bitterness. 

Quite unlike the Lines, is the terrible sonnet To Fanny, 
which begins: 

" I cry your mercy pity love! aye, love! 
Merciful love that tantalizes not." 

This sonnet is all bitterness, and longing, agonizing, fevered 
love. He cries to Fanny: 

"Yourself your soul in pity give me all, 

Withhold no atom's atom or I die, 
Or living on perhaps, your wretched thrall, 

Forget, in the mist of idle misery, 
Life's purposes, the palate of my mind 
Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!" 

The last two lines here seem to date the sonnet as having 
been written in mid-November. 

A fragment of seven and a half lines is jotted down on 
one of the pages of the Cap and Bells. 1 It is one of the bit- 
terest of all Keats's personal expressions. Here is the con- 
stant, haunting thought of death, here is the profound dis- 
trust of Fanny Brawne, and here is something worse than 
either the tortured man imagining, and almost glad to 
imagine, an anguish of remorse for the woman he loves. 
To appreciate Keats's agony, one must know these lines: 

"This living hand, now warm and capable 
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold 
And in the icy silence of the tomb, 
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights 

1 The poem is written upside down on the page which contains Stanza 
Li. As the sheet is octavo, there is no room for more writing on the page. 



ILLNESS 377 

That thou would [st] wish thine own heart dry of blood 
So in my veins red life might stream again, 
And thou be conscience-calm 'd see here it is 
I hold it toward you." 

A tentative suggestion made by Sir Sidney Colvin is that 
these lines may have been a fragment of the projected 
drama on the Earl of Leicester, but considering what we 
know of Keats's state of mind at this time, the idea is, I 
think, quite untenable. 1 

Sir Sidney Colvin thinks that it did not occur to Keats as 
possible that "at the present ebb-tide of his fortunes," he 
"might win peace by marriage with the object of his pas- 
sion." I think nothing else occurred to him day and night. 
The fact that the Brawne family had enough to live on 
comfortably, leads Sir Sidney to remark of Fanny: "What 
his instincts of honour and independence forbade him to 
ask, hers of tenderness could perhaps hardly be expected 
to offer." But it was Mrs. Brawne's money, not Fanny's; 
and is it to be supposed that any sensible mother (unless, 
indeed, she were supersensible and possessed of the pro- 
phesying powers of a Sibyl) would have suggested, or per- 
mitted her daughter to suggest, such a mad thing? They 
could not know that John Keats, living next door, was one 
of the greatest of English poets. What they saw was a 
penniless young man, in a very indifferent state of health. 
Fanny was only nineteen and Keats hardly twenty-four, 
and Mrs. Brawne cannot but have thought that there was 
plenty of time to think of marriage in a few years, the mo- 
ment was most unpropitious, the young couple would be 
in a better position later on, in all probability. Also, Fanny 
lived in an age when well-brought-up daughters in her 
class of life did not jump over the traces and marry off- 
hand; and suppose Fanny had happened to do this, neither 

1 Since the above was put in type, I have seen the holograph manuscript 
of this page of the Cap and Bells, which proves conclusively that the lines 
were written before Keats had composed Stanza LII. 



378 JOHN KEATS 

she nor Keats had the money to run away, and was it to be 
contemplated that Fanny should move next door and let 
Brown support the pair of them! The idea is absurd. 
Fanny was not Harriet Westbrook, and Keats was no Shel- 
ley. They each did the best they could, as I think any one 
not hoodwinked by an unreasoning love for Keats can see. 
Notwithstanding his misery, Keats made a brave at- 
tempt to keep up in the face of the world, his world of 
friends and acquaintances who did not see him so con- 
stantly as to suspect his condition. Sir Sidney Colvin en- 
tirely misreads a letter to Severn, written on Monday 
morning, December sixth. In this letter, Keats tells 
Severn that he is coming round soon to see his picture, the 
Cave of Despair, and at the end, with a touch of his old 
humour which did not quite desert him when speaking to 
outsiders until the very end, he asks Severn to come with 
him to see a poem which he has hung up in the Lecture 
Room of the Surrey Institution in competition for a prize, 
and adds: 

"I have many Rivals the most threatening are An 
Ode to Lord Castlereagh, and a new series of Hymns for 
the New, new Jerusalem Chapel. You had best put me 
into your Cave of despair." 

Keats's postulate does not refer to his real state of mind, as 
Sir Sidney supposes, he is merely carrying on the joke of 
the prize poem with a mock fear at such formidable rivals. 
I make this point simply to show that he was not in the 
habit of making a confidant of Severn. 

While Keats's inner life was undergoing such throes, 
while to himself he was engulfed in a passionate tragedy, 
his outward life was calm enough. Brown had finished his 
fair transcript of Otho the Great, and taken it to Elliston, the 
manager of Drury Lane, and Elliston had accepted it with 
a proviso: he could not bring it out until the following 
season. This was very disagreeable news for Keats and 
Brown, particularly as Kean had postponed his journey to 



ILLNESS 379 

America until the next year. There was some delay in the 
final decision, and during that time the young men nerved 
themselves to deliver an ultimatum. The tragedy must be 
brought out that season or they would offer it to Covent 
Garden, in the hope that Macready would take the chief 
part. In spite of Keats's great preference for Kean, he 
wrote to Rice that "'Twould do one's heart good to see 
Macready in Ludolph." Having arrived at this opinion, 
Keats at once set about improving the play. On Monday, 
December twentieth, he wrote to his sister that he had 
been very busy and should be for some time "preparing 
some Poems to come out in the Spring, and also in bright- 
ening the interest of our Tragedy." But Elliston was ada- 
mant, the young men took back their play, and there all 
knowledge of it ceases. Probably Covent Garden refused 
it, for, as I have already mentioned, it was never produced. 

From this letter to Fanny, it is evident that Keats's de- 
termination not to publish any of the poems he had on 
hand, expressed in his letter to Taylor of November 
seventeenth, had been over-ruled, and a new volume de- 
cided upon. If Keats did any work during January, it was 
probably confined to a revision of his old poems. 

Keats tells his sister an amusing little anecdote in this 
letter which must be given in his own words: 

" My hopes of success in the literary world are now better 
than ever. Mr. Abbey, on my calling on him lately, ap- 
peared anxious I should apply myself to something else 
He mentioned Tea Brokerage. I supposed he might per- 
haps mean to give me the Brokerage of his concern which 
might be executed with little trouble and a good profit; and 
therefore said I should have no objection to it, especially 
as at the same time it occurred to me that I might make 
over the business to George I questioned him about it 
a few days after. His mind takes odd turns. When I be- 
came a Suitor he became coy. He did not seem so much 
inclined to serve me. He described what I should have to 
do in the progress of business. It will not suit me. I have 
given it up." 



380 JOHN KEATS 

What Abbey probably had in mind was that Keats 
should become a travelling salesman for the London trade, 
what was, and probably still is, called in England, a " town 
traveller." The picture of Keats driving up and down 
London and the near-by suburbs in a gig, purveying sam- 
ples of tea, is a strange one, as Abbey doubtless realized 
when he came to think it over. And yet I think it was, in 
some sort, a moral lack in Keats that he, up to his eyes in 
debt, did not at least try what he could do with the job. 
His health is his only excuse, and we may make it for him; 
it was enough. Still, it must be admitted that, as regards 
his finances, Keats's sense of honour and justice was too 
often in abeyance. He disliked obligation, but consented 
to it rather than alter his mode of life a tittle. 

By the middle of December, Keats's throat was again 
giving trouble, and following his doctor's advice he had " a 
warm great coat" made and provided himself with thick 
shoes. Useless precautions! The throat which, he says, 
"on exertion or cold continually threatens me" got no 
better. 

Christmas came and went. Keats dined on Christmas 
Day with the Dilkes, in company, we may presume, with 
the Brawnes. Suddenly, early in January, George appeared 
in London. Whether or not he had heralded his coming by 
a letter to Keats or Mrs. Wylie, no one says, but it seems 
likely that he had, for Mrs. Wylie had had a letter from 
him in the middle of December. Heralded or not, here he 
was. George had got heartily sick of waiting for Abbey to 
forward to him the money promised. Keats had sent him 
one hundred pounds, drawn from Tom's undivided estate, 
but what George desired was to have the estate divided 
and obtain his share of it at once. The one hundred pounds 
sent by John was but a drop in the bucket of George's ex- 
pectations and he had come to the conclusion that, if he 
were to get what he wanted, he must cross the ocean and 
fetch it himself. 



ILLNESS 381 

The financial situation of the Keats children, if we can 
put implicit faith in George's statement of it made to Dilke 
in I824, 1 was somewhat as follows (I say somewhat, be- 
cause George himself was not certain of the earlier sums. 
He qualifies his figures by saying "presuming" them to be 
so and so, "probably" I had such and such, "I do not re- 
member" the amount, "suppose" it to have been this or 
that. A most unsatisfactory kind of accounting) : On Mrs. 
Jennings's death, the children had each a capital of fifteen 
hundred pounds, of which Abbey was the trustee. This 
seems to have included the sum received by Mrs. Jennings 
from her husband, and the sum bequeathed to Mrs. Raw- 
lings with reversion to her children. 2 The thousand pounds 
each, directly bequeathed to his grandchildren by Mr. 
Jennings, is omitted from the calculation, as it could not 
be inherited until Fanny Keats came of age; and the un- 
divided residue of Mr. Jennings's estate was hopelessly 
tied up by the dilatory methods of the Court of Chancery. 

At the time of George's going to America, John had, in 
various ways, chiefly through his apprenticeship and tui- 
tion fees, but also by over-spending his income, reduced 
his capital to five hundred pounds, out of which he had lent 
two hundred. George had spent little of his money him- 
self, but he had advanced a considerable sum to John and 
Tom, for Tom had not only the expenses of illness to meet, 
he, also, had spent far more than his income. George, 
wishing to take ready money with him, sold his stock, by 
doing which he realized an extra hundred pounds, which 
hundred pounds he employed in paying various debts con- 
tracted by his brothers. He left five hundred pounds be- 
hind him for John's benefit (whose capital at this time 
amounted to no more than three hundred pounds), four 
hundred of which was his own money, and one hundred 
pounds from Tom's share of the general fund paid him by 
Abbey because of what he had advanced to Tom, and set 

i Author's Collection. 2 See Vol. I, pp. 26-27. 



382 JOHN KEATS 

sail for America with eleven hundred pounds to start his 
new life upon, all of which he lost in the boat venture en- 
tered into at Audubon's suggestion. 

Evidently George, in 1824, thought that his brothers 
were deeply in his debt. Perhaps they were, but there 
seems to be another side to the question. George had prob- 
ably forgotten a letter he had written to John at Teign- 
mouth in iSiS, 1 but a copy of it is still extant, 2 and in it 
George says: 

"I am about paying your's as well as Tom's bills, of 
which I shall keep regular accounts and for the sake of 
justice and a future proper understanding I intend calcu- 
lating the probable amount Tom and I are indebted to 
you, something of this kind must be done, or at the end of 
two or three years we shall be all at sixes and sevens. 7 ' 

Two years had passed, and they were all at sixes and 
sevens. By this time, George seems to have entirely for- 
gotten that he had ever been indebted to John at all. Very 
likely the debts to and fro between them had left George 
John's creditor to some extent. But what that extent was, 
George himself did not know. He says that up to the mo- 
ment of his departure the brothers had had everything in 
common. When, in January, 1820, George returned to 
England, Tom's estate, after all the debts contracted by 
him had been paid, amounted to eleven hundred pounds. 
Out of this sum, John had drawn a hundred pounds for 
himself, having apparently entirely spent, or lent, the 
three hundred pounds George says he had a year and a 
half before. He had also drawn a second hundred pounds, 
which he had sent to George. 

George's first act on his return was to go over the ac- 
counts of Tom's property and make a proper division of the 
whole. He immediately gave a hundred pounds into Ab- 
bey's hands for his sister, to balance the like sums taken by 

1 See Vol. I, p. 605. 2 Author's Collection. 



ILLNESS 383 

John and himself. He then proceeded to divide the re- 
mainder, eight hundred pounds, into three equal parts, 
which should have given each of them two hundred and 
sixty-odd pounds. (In his explanation, George, never too 
accurate, advances the divided shares to two hundred and 
seventy each, for the purpose, one supposes, of a simpler 
calculation.) At this point he suggested to John that he 
should reserve a hundred pounds of his third for immediate 
use, and place the remainder in his, George's, hands for 
him to take to America and invest in whatever business he 
might embark upon. John, generous to a fault, and a baby 
where money was concerned, consented readily to this 
proposition. George also took back the one hundred 
pounds given him by Abbey out of Tom's money the year 
before "in consideration of what I had done for Tom." 
(What had become of the remaining four hundred pounds 
also left behind the year before, he does not say. Very 
likely part of it had been spent in England by John and 
Tom, and part may have been forwarded to him in Amer- 
ica.) Counting the hundred pounds recently sent him by 
John, George had now from Tom's estate five hundred and 
forty pounds (his calculation, it was really five hundred 
and thirty-two pounds), which, with the previous one hun- 
dred pounds given him by Abbey, brought his total up to 
six hundred and forty pounds. To this, Abbey, probably as 
a speculation, added sixty-odd pounds for himself, so bring- 
ing the sum to the round figure of seven hundred pounds, 
with which capital George started back to America in 
hopes this time of making a success where before he had 
met with such signal disaster. 

This is the story, as far as it is possible to learn it, of 
those financial transactions which so greatly incensed 
Keats's friends. There is no doubt that George hoped to in- 
crease John's capital along with his own, and had every in- 
tention of treating his brother with the utmost fairness. 
But it is also true that, at a time when John was dying and 



384 JOHN KEATS 

in grievous need of funds, George had money of his which 
would have made all the difference could he have obtained 
it. George did not know the extent of his need, nor how ill 
he was, and having sunk the money in another boat specu- 
lation was powerless to remit what he had not at the 
moment got. In the end, he squarely discharged his bro- 
ther's posthumous debts; but even this action could not re- 
store to him the friendship of Brown, Severn, Haslam, and 
others who were firmly persuaded of his dishonesty. Dilke, 
Reynolds, and Rice, on the other hand, exonerated George 
entirely after reading his explanation, which I have just 
paraphrased. 

George's chief fault seems to have lain in not explain- 
ing matters fully to John while he was in England. His 
explanation to Dilke of this side of the affair was: 

" John himself was ignorant of the real state of his funds, 
it was so painful a subject and in our private communi- 
cations he was so extremely melancholy that I always had 
to shew him the pleasing side of things; when I left London 
I had not courage to say that the 7Oo I had obtained was 
not all ours by right, he therefore imagined it was, but he 
never thought and never could have informed anyone that 
the whole was his. I never considered it necessary to let 
him know the rights of it, since I did not intend to limit my 
remittances but by my means ... it was always my inten- 
tion to keep him under the idea that I was in his debt/' 

This was most mistaken kindness on George's part, and 
I fear we cannot free his conduct from a grain of self- 
interest and some moral cowardice. But there is no doubt 
that he was fully persuaded at the time that John would 
benefit in the end, as he undoubtedly would have done had 
he lived a few years longer. For George did finally succeed, 
becoming the managing partner in a flourishing flour- and 
saw-mill concern which yielded him ample returns on his 
money. 

Fanny Brawne, who, of all people, had reason to blame 



ILLNESS 385 

George, spoke of him with wise and tempered justice. To 
be sure, her correspondent was his sister, which may have 
affected her expression; but, considering that she was 
writing only a few days after hearing of Keats's death, it 
seems probable that she spoke her mind with conviction. 
What she said was this: 

" George ... is no favorite of mine and he never liked me 
so that I am not likely to say too much in his favour . . . 
but I must say I think he is more blamed than he should 
be. I think him extravagant . . . but people in their zeal 
make him out much worse than that Soon after . . . Tom 
died . . . John wrote to him offering him any assistance or 
money in his power. At that time he was not engaged to 
me and having just lost one brother felt all his affection 
turned toward the one remaining George I dare say at 
first had no thoughts of accepting his offers but when his 
affairs did not succeed and he had a wife and child to 
support I cannot wonder that he should consider them 
first ... By that time he wished to marry himself but he 
could not refuse the money." 

It was this letter I had in mind when I said, some time 
ago, 1 that Keats was not quite candid with Fanny Brawne 
in the matter of his offer of assistance to George sent from 
Winchester. The offer was made when he was endeavoring 
to wean himself from Miss Brawne. That he deeply re- 
gretted it, we can very well believe, but the fact that he 
had made it was undoubtedly why he consented to George's 
proposition. He had given his word, and we saw a few 
pages back what Brown said about his invariably living up 
to his word when once given. 

I have dealt with this circumstance at so much length, 
because no other of Keats's biographers has done more 
than glance at it. It is the least understood of the facts 
of Keats's life; but that it is an exceedingly important 
fact, no one can fail to see. It filled his last year with 

i See Vol. II, p. 349- 



386 JOHN KEATS 

a sordid misery which he might have been spared, and, 
after his death, brought about a feud among his friends 
that has deprived the world of a biography written by any 
one who had known him. In spite of George's assevera- 
tions, Keats did at last come to believe that the seven 
hundred pounds had all been his, and he apparently told 
his friends as much. For Keats to lose his implicit faith in 
his brother was a terrible thing, and uninformed as he was, 
he did lose it to a certain extent, although not until later, 
when George's failure to come to his aid a failure the 
cause of which he never perfectly realized left him pufc- 
zled and surprised, and half unconsciously loosened the tie 
between them in Keats's mind. It was not to George that 
he poured out his heart in the first weeks of his Italian 
journey; it was to Brown. 

The weeks which George spent in London are all care- 
fully recorded in a delightful letter which John wrote to 
his sister-in-law in America. Keats tries to be jocular, but 
he cannot quite keep his morbidness from creeping in, 
here and there. George, who was anxious to see as many of 
his old friends as possible, went out to Deptford, where 
Haslam, who had been married on October sixteenth, now 
lived. Keats had not, it would seem, gone to the wedding, 
and he could not bring himself to go to Deptford now with 
George. He could not face the sight of a couple still in 
honeymoon temper, and we can easily see why. Keats 
tells Georgiana, who had accused him of filling his letters 
with "Haydon & Co.," that he is very idle, and that he 
never sees Haydon or Co. But he was seeing a few people 
nevertheless, principally on George's account. The bro- 
thers went about a good deal among their various friends; 
we are told of a dinner at Taylor's, "a pianoforte hop" at 
Dilke's, of going to the play with Mrs. Wylie; but beneath 
Keats's account of these mild gaieties, there is the ever- 
present undercurrent of bitterness and gloom. He looked 
out on the world with jaundiced eyes. All was tasteless, 



ILLNESS 387 

because he was a very sick man and a miserably unhappy 
one. Georgiana might well have taken alarm at this pas- 
sage: 

" I am tired of the theatres. Almost all parties I may 
chance to fall into I know by heart ... If I go to Hunt's, I 
run my head into many tunes heard before, old puns and 
old music; to Haydon's worn-out discourses of poetry and 
painting. The Miss R[eynolds]'s I am afraid to speak to, 
for fear of some sickly reiteration of phrase or sentiment . . . 
At Dilke's I fall foul of politics. Tis best to remain aloof 
from people and like their good parts without being 
eternally troubled with the dull process of their every-day 
lives . . . All I can say is that, standing at Charing Cross 
and looking east, west, north, and south I see nothing but 
dulness." 

The letter was begun on Thursday, January thirteenth, 
and continued at intervals for two weeks. On Friday, 
January twenty-eighth, Keats saw George off to Liverpool 
on the "Royal Alexander" coach leaving the King's 
Arms, Snow Hill, at six in the morning. His last entry to 
his sister-in-law is dated on that day, after his return to 
Hampstead. He had forgotten to give George the letter 
before he started, and closes in a hurry so that it may be 
sure to catch the mail that evening and reach George before 
he sailed. It must have done so, for the mail was due in 
Liverpool at three o'clock on Sunday morning, and George 
himself had only got there at four the afternoon before. On 
that same Sunday, George wrote to John, 1 telling him that 
he had had a cold ride, but had gone immediately upon his 
arrival to see about sailings and had secured a passage in 
the "Courier" packet, leaving on the following Tuesday, 
before he went to bed. 

One thing Keats told Georgiana at the very end of his 
letter. It was that he intended " to retire into the country." 
Evidently Keats had come to the conclusion that his only 

1 Unpublished letter. Day Collection. 



388 JOHN KEATS 

hope of getting on his feet again mentally was to reproduce 
somewhere the weeks in Winchester. 

George's visit had not been to either of the brothers what 
they might have expected. George had found John very 
much changed. "He was not the same person," he told 
Dilke many years afterwards, "altho' his reception of me 
was as warm as heart could wish, he did not speak with his 
former openness and unreserve, he had lost the reviving 
custom of venting his griefs." It is not difficult to see why 
this was. Keats needed the money he felt constrained to 
let George have, and George permitted his brother to see 
that he did not like Fanny Brawne. George appears to 
have been told of the engagement, but his attitude can be 
judged by the fact that, in sending his greetings to various 
friends in the Liverpool letter, all he can bring himself to 
say of the Brawnes is "Rem 9 to your neighbours." In the 
following November, he wrote to John: "If we meet a safe 
opportunity for England we will send Miss Brawne an 
india Crape dress or marino shawl or something scarce 
with you, but cheap with us. She has our thanks for her 
kindness during your illness." Let us hope John never re- 
ceived this letter, or, if it followed him to Rome, that it 
was never read. Four years later, George speaks of the 
Brawnes to Dilke as "Mrs. Brawne and her lovely 
daughter," but the epithet rings a little false, and by that 
time George's opinion of Miss Brawne was of no conse- 
quence to anyone. 

George took more to America with him than money; he 
took copies of many of Keats's poems which he had been at 
pains to make while in London, for, in spite of the ques- 
tionable ethics of his conduct, his affection for his brother 
and interest in his work was genuine and never wavered. 

On Thursday, February third, the crash came. The 
weather had been very changeable. In the middle of Jan- 
uary there had been snow, Keats had told Georgiana that 
"The sun comes upon the snow and makes a prettier 



ILLNESS 389 

candy than we have on twelfth-night cakes." It had still 
been cold when George started for Liverpool; but sud- 
denly there came a thaw, the kind of thaw which tempts to 
imprudence and ill rewards confidence. On this Thursday, 
Keats had gone to town, and had most unwisely left off 
his warm greatcoat. He returned by a late stage, and, ac- 
cording to his usual practice, on the top of it. Thaw 
though it was, the night air was very different from that 
of the previous day. It was raw, damp, and penetrating, 
and Keats was without his greatcoat. The result was that 
he caught a bad chill. Brown's account of this evening is 
well known, but it must be repeated again here. It is as 
follows: 

" At eleven o'clock, he came into the house in a state that 
looked like fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, 
was impossible; it therefore was the more fearful. I asked 
hurriedly, 'What is the matter? you are fevered?' 'Yes, 
yes,' he answered, 'I was on the outside of the stage this 
bitter day till I was severely chilled, but now I don't 
feel it. Fevered! of course, a little.' He mildly and 
instantly yielded, a property in his nature towards any 
friend, to my request that he should go to bed. I entered his 
chamber as he leapt into bed. On entering the cold sheets, 
before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed, and I 
heard him say, 'That is blood from my mouth.' I went 
towards him; he was examining a single drop of blood upon 
the sheet. ' Bring me the candle, Brown, and let me see 
this blood.' After regarding it steadfastly he looked up in 
my face, with a calmness of countenance that I can never 
forget, and said, ' I know the colour of that blood; it 
is arterial blood ; I cannot be deceived in that colour; 
that drop of blood is my death-warrant; I must die.' I 
ran for a surgeon; my friend was bled; and, at five in the 
morning, I left him after he had been some time in a quiet 
sleep." 

The moment Keats had for months secretly dreaded had 
come, but the marvel is that it had delayed so long. Yet, 



390 JOHN KEATS 

even now, the doctors refused to consider his attack an 
evidence of pulmonary tuberculosis. They palliated the 
symptoms, and denied the cause. 

The very next day, although kept in bed, Keats was 
able to write to Miss Brawne: 

"DEAREST FANNY, I shall send this the moment you return. 
They say I must remain confined to this room for some 
time. The consciousness that you love me will make a 
pleasant prison of the house next to yours. You must come 
and see me frequently: this evening without fail when 
you must not mind my speaking in a low tone for I am 
ordered to do so though I can speak out. 

Yours ever 

sweetest love. 
J. KEATS." 

At the bottom of the page, Keats wrote "turn over," and 
on the other side of the sheet continued: 

" Perhaps your Mother is not at home and so you must 
wait till she comes. You must see me to-night and let me 
hear you say you will come to-morrow. 

Brown said you were all out. I have been looking for the 
stage the whole afternoon. Had I known this I could not 
have remained so silent all day." 

By this letter we plainly see that, however jealous Keats 
had sometimes been, however unworthily he had occasion- 
ally been led to think of Miss Brawne, the moment he was 
in serious trouble he turned to her with longing and confi- 
dence. The last sentence of his note seems to imply a pre- 
vious note from Fanny, telling him that she had been at 
home all day, but was going out for a little while. 

From this fourth of February, life for Keats settled itself 
for nearly two months to an entirely different routine, the 
routine of a carefully cherished invalid. Brown was inde- 
fatigable in his attentions, but in one particular his tact 
failed, and inexperience of illness led him into a blunder. 



ILLNESS 391 

He had been amusing himself by copying heads from en- 
gravings of Hogarth s pictures. One, newly purchased, 
was the Methodist Meeting. This picture haunted Keats, 
and, sick as he was, gave him what he called a "psalm- 
singing night-mare," it was in fact responsible for some 
very uncomfortable nights, yet it does not seem to have 
occurred to Brown to keep it out of sight. 

From the very first, the Brawnes, both mother and 
daughter, were unwearied in their efforts to do everything 
possible for Keats. Fanny ceased entirely her excursions 
to town, and held herself ready to come and see her lover at 
whatever time in the day he wanted her. This visit was a 
daily one, except on certain occasions when Brown or the 
doctor thought it wiser for her not to come. But whether 
she came or not, she wrote. We have none of her notes, 
sent by hand to the invalid, but from the tenor of Keats's 
answers we know them to have been warm and reassuring 
ones. Now it was she who worried, fearing that her lover 
might find her cold. Keats's reply to one such letter tells 
us much: 

" I wish I had read your note before you went last night 
that I might have assured you how far I was from suspect- 
ing any coldness. You had a just right to be a little silent 
to one who speaks so plainly to you. You must believe 
you shall, you will that I can do nothing, say nothing, 
think nothing of you but what has its spring in the Love 
which has so long been my pleasure and torment. On the 
night I was taken ill when so violent a rush of blood 
came to my Lungs that I felt nearly suffocated I assure 
you I felt it possible I might not survive, and at that 
moment thought of nothing but you. When I said to 
Brown 'this is unfortunate' I thought of you. 'Tis true 
that since the first two or three days other subjects have 
entered my head. I shall be looking forward to Health and 
the Spring and a regular routine of our old Walks." 

Keats made every effort to keep both Miss Brawne and 



392 JOHN KEATS 

his sister from realizing the extent of his fears for himself. 
He tells his sister that everybody has a cold, even Brown 
is "a little wheezy." But although the doctor's diagnosis 
gave his fears no encouragement, Keats's medical studies 
forbade him to take a sanguine view of his condition. So 
squarely did he regard his case, that he hinted to Fanny 
Brawne that it might be wiser for her to terminate their 
engagement. Her reply was a flat negative. His answer to 
this shows his intense relief: 

"How hurt I should have been had you ever acceded to 
what is, notwithstanding, very reasonable! How much the 
more do I love you from the general result! . . . My greatest 
torment since I have known you has been the fear of you 
being a little inclined to the Cressid ; but that suspicion I 
dismiss utterly and remain happy in the surety of your 
Love, which I assure you is as much a wonder to me as a 
delight. Send me the words ' Good night ' to put under my 
pillow." 

After this, Fanny Brawne sent him a written "Good 
night" every evening. 

Keats was kept in bed for two days, but on the third he 
was allowed to lie in the front parlour on the sofa made up 
as a bed. Of this removal, he wrote to his sister, in his old 
vein of quaint humour, partly the result of his change of 
surroundings, undoubtedly, but even more certainly of his 
determination not to let the young girl worry about him: 

" How much more comfortable than a dull room upstairs, 
where one gets tired of the pattern of the bed curtains. Be- 
sides I see all that passes for instance now, this morning 
if I had been in my own room I should not have seen the 
coals brought in. On sunday between the hours of twelve 
and one I descried a Pot boy. I conjectured it might be the 
one o'clock beer Old women with bobbins and red 
cloaks and unpresuming bonnets I see creeping about the 
heath. Gipseys after hare skins and silver spoons. Then 
goes by a fellow with a wooden clock under his arm that 



ILLNESS 



393 



strikes a hundred and more. Then comes the old French 
emigrant (who has been very well to do in France) with his 
hands joined behind on his hips, and his face full of political 
schemes ... As for those fellows the Brickmakers they are 
always passing to and fro." 

This is by no means the end of Keats's list of what his 
window revealed, but it will serve to show how indomi- 
table a will he opposed to illness when it finally came. 
Either his weakened vitality lessened his torments of 
mind and sex, or Fanny Brawne's tenderness had raised 
him on so high a pinnacle of security that he could defy 
them. Probably they were equal agents in the better bal- 
ance he certainly had during the weeks of his confinement. 

On Thursday, the tenth, he was well enough to walk 
round the garden for a quarter of an hour, and this he was 
able to repeat, weather permitting, on subsequent days. 
So far his improvement went, but no farther, and he began 
to chafe a little at the apparent halt in his recovery. The 
powers that were probably the doctor, Brown, and Mrs. 
Brawne put their heads together and decided that to 
see Fanny every day was too exciting, so her visits were 
ordered to be spaced a little more widely. "According to 
all appearances I am to be separated from you as much as 
possible," he wrote her. "How I shall be able to bear it, or 
whether it will not be worse than your presence now and 
then, I cannot tell," and he urges her no longer to refrain 
from going to town. He thinks she had better not come 
before " tomorrow evening," but begs her to send "without 
fail a good night." At the end of the letter, his sense of 
honour forces him once more to do the decent thing: 

"You know our situation what hope is there if I 
should be recovered ever so soon my very health will not 
suffer me to make any great exertion. I am recommended 
not even to read poetry, much less write it. I wish I had 
even a little hope. I cannot say forget me but I would 
mention that there are impossibilities in this world." 



394 JOHN KEATS 

Fanny's counter to this was to accuse him of wishing to 
forget her. He wrote again, assuring her that he had 
thought only of her; for himself: 

"I should as soon think of choosing to die as to part 
from you." 

Yet he feels constrained to add: 

" Believe too my Love that our friends think and speak 
for the best, and if their best is not our best it is not their 
fault." 

But Fanny Brawne, we remember, was not easily turned 
aside from any course of action she had determined upon, 
and how much less in such a thing as marriage. She must 
have told Keats that she did not care a button what any 
one said, for this is his reply: 

"Then all we have to do is to be patient. Whatever 
violence I may sometimes do myself by hinting at what 
would appear to any one but ourselves a matter of necessity, 
I do not think I could bear any approach of a thought of 
losing you." 

So things resumed what was become their normal habit. 
Miss Brawne came frequently and wrote every night. She 
would also go out into the garden in order that Keats 
might see her from the back parlour where he seems to 
have taken to sitting. Sometimes she would appear at her 
window when he, in his turn, was taking a turn outdoors. 

Two weeks after his haemorrhage, on February sixteenth, 
he wrote to Rice, a rather sad letter which contains this 
wistful paragraph: 

" How astonishingly (here I must premise that illness, as 
far as I can judge in so short a time, has relieved my mind 
of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and makes 
me perceive things in a truer light), how astonishingly 
does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its 



ILLNESS 395 

natural beauties upon us! ... I muse with the greatest 
affection on every flower I have known from my infancy 
their shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just 
created them with a superhuman fancy ... I have seen 
foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature, 
but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of 
our Spring are what I want to see again." 

The treatment of tuberculosis in the early nineteenth 
century was diametrically opposed to that of the present 
day. It seems to have been entirely focussed on the 
symptoms of the disease, not at all on the disease itself. 
If the patient had a haemorrhage, he was promptly bled, 
and his food reduced to a minimum and vegetable at that. 
Keats speaks of the "small quantity of food to which I am 
obliged to confine myself: I am sure a mouse would starve 
upon it." By this process of attrition the patient was so 
wasted that the haemorrhages, at least in the early stages 
of illness, were often temporarily diminished, whereat the 
doctor rejoiced and declared that his remedies were taking 
effect. Keats was so extraordinarily vigorous a man that 
there is little doubt that, under the regime prescribed for 
tuberculous patients to-day, he would have lived for many 
years, if not have recovered entirely. As it was, every- 
thing was done to kill him and nothing to cure. Through- 
out this attack, we hear a great deal of the starvation diet, 
"living on pseudo-victuals," Keats calls it, and he warns 
Fanny Brawne that, if she finds him "low-spirited," she 
must ascribe it to the medicine he is taking "which is of a 
nerve-shaking nature." The doctors assured him that 
there was "very little the matter" with him, but he adds, 
with a shrewdness beyond their wisdom: "I cannot be- 
lieve them till the weight and tightness of my Chest is 
mitigated." 

Two great obstructions to recovery were constantly 
preying upon him. One of his notes to Fanny Brawne con- 
tains this passage: 



396 JOHN KEATS 

"How illness stands as a barrier betwixt me and you! 
Even if I was well I must make myself as good a 
Philosopher as possible. Now I have had opportunities of 
passing nights anxious and awake I have found other 
thoughts obtrude upon me. ' If I should die,' said I to my- 
self, ' I have left no immortal work behind me nothing 
to make my friends proud of my memory but I have 
lov'd the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had 
time I would have made myself remember'd." 

Poor fellow, if only he could have known the verdict of 
posterity, and how many of these same friends are remem- 
bered solely because of their connection with him ! 

As time went on, and Keats did not seem to gain, Miss 
Brawne became alarmed and began to fear that something 
was being kept from her. Toward the end of February, she 
demanded to know the truth. To this, Keats answered: 

" Indeed I will not deceive you in respect to my health. 
This is the fact as far as I know. I have been confined 
three weeks and am not yet well this proves that there is 
something wrong about me which my constitution will 
either conquer or give way to. Let us hope for the best." 

Still, even as he writes, a thrush is singing, and he tells 
Fanny not to send back any more of his books: "I have a 
great pleasure in the thought of you looking on them." 

On February twenty-third or twenty-fifth (the letter is 
undated, and the postmark difficult to read), Keats wrote 
to Reynolds, who was planning a trip to Brussels. Among 
other things which Keats says in this letter is the following 
interesting statement: 

11 1 hope I shall soon be well enough to proceed with my 
fa[e]ries and set you about the notes on Sundays and 
Stray-days." 

The " faeries" were, of course, those in the Cap and Bells. 
The scheme of the poem was to include a series of " notes" 
to give a mock appearance of erudition to the poem and so 



ILLNESS 397 

add to the joke. Apparently Reynolds, with his keen wit, 
Was to be responsible for these. This passage is particu- 
larly important, for it proves that Keats's erstwhile pet- 
tishness with the poem had quite disappeared, and that he 
had every intention of finishing it when he should be well 
enough to write again. 

As soon as Keats was able to see people, which seems to 
have been fairly soon after his attack, his friends made a 
point of coming out to see him. Even Mrs. Wylie came, 
everybody indeed but Fanny Keats, poor girl. Abbey 
appears to have recognized no reason for her to go and see 
her brother, and she was still under age, and entirely sub- 
ject to his orders. How Mrs. Jennings would have felt if 
she could have seen the working out of her plan for the 
protection and comfort of her grandchildren, is something 
not pleasant to speculate upon. 

Before Mrs. Wylie had made her first visit, some time, 
probably, toward the end of February, Keats wrote her a 
letter. 1 A small fragment of this letter was published by 
Buxton Forman, evidently all he had seen, and, having 
nothing to go upon, he attributed it to quite a wrong date. 
The whole of the letter has never been printed, and as so 
small a portion was published by Buxton Forman, I give it 
here in full. 

"Wentworth Place 

Friday Morn. 
MY DEAR MRS. WYLIE. 

I have been very negligent in not letting you hear from 
me for so long a time considering the anxiety I know you 
feel for me. Charles has been here this morning and will 
tell you that I am better. Just as he came in I was sitting 
down to write to you, and I shall not let his visit supersede 
these few lines. Charles enquired whether I had heard from 
George. It is impossible to guess whether he has landed 
yet, and if he has it will take at least a month for any 

1 Day Collection. 



398 JOHN KEATS 

communication to reach us. I hope you keep your spirits a 
great height above freezing point and live in expectation of 
good news next summer. Louisville is not such a Monstrous 
distance: if Georgiana liv'd at York it would be just as far 
off. You see George will make nothing of the journey here 
and back. His absence will have been perhaps a fortunate 
thing for Georgiana, for the pleasure of his return will be 
so great that it will wipe away the consciousness of many 
troubles felt before very deeply. She will see him return'd 
from us and be convinced that the separation is not so very 
formidable although the Atlantic is between. If George 
succeeds it will be better certainly that they should stop in 
America: if not why not return? It is better in ill luck to 
have at least the comfort of ones friends than to be ship- 
wreck'd among Americans. But I have good hopes as far 
as I can judge from what I have heard from George. He 
should by this time be taught Alertness and Carefulness 
If they should stop in America for five or six years let us 
hope they may have about Three Children : then the eldest 
will be getting old enough to be society. The very crying 
will keep their ears employed, and their spirits from being 
melancholy. Mrs. Millar I hear continues confined to her 
Chamber if she would take my advice I should recom- 
mend her to keep it till the middle of April and then go 
to some Sea-town in Devonshire which is sheltered from the 
east wind which blows down the channel very briskly 
even in April. Give my Compliments to Miss Millar and 
Miss Waldegrave. 

Your affectionate friend 

JOHN KEATS." 

It speaks much for Keats's thoughtful consideration that> 
ill as he was, he should have written to Mrs. Wylie to re- 
lieve her anxiety about George's return voyage. 

Try as he would, Keats was himself and had his own 
temperament to reckon with. It need not surprise us, 
therefore, to find him imagining a flirtatious tendency in 
Brown directed towards Fanny Brawne. It was all the 
merest moonshine, as we know, but he could not get rid of 



ILLNESS 399 

it. The result was that he decided that Fanny's visits, 
those visits in which she brought her work and stayed some 
little time, should be made only when Brown was out of 
the house. Perhaps it was to reassure him on this score that 
Miss Brawne gave him a ring. Such a token could not fail 
of being the greatest comfort to Keats. We do not know 
how this ring was made, whether it was of plain gold or 
had some sort of a stone. I incline to think that it was a 
seal ring, of agate or carnelian, for their joint names seem 
to have been engraved upon it. The day after receiving it, 
he wrote to Fanny: 

"The power of your benediction is not of so weak a 
nature as to pass from the ring in four and twenty hours 
it is like a sacred Chalice once consecrated and ever conse- 
crate. I shall kiss your name and mine where your Lips 
have been." 

In another note, which Buxton Forman puts after this 
one, Keats at last says what Fanny Brawne had been 
waiting a year to have him say: 

"You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov'd 
your Beauty. Have I nothing else then to love in you but 
that? Do I not see a heart naturally furnish 'd with wings 
imprison itself with me? No ill prospect has been able to 
turn your thoughts a moment from me. This perhaps 
should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy but I will 
not think of that.*' 

A little later on, he writes: 

"How can you bear so long an imprisonment at Hamp- 
stead? I shall always remember it with all the gusto that a 
monopolizing carl should. I could build an Altar to you 
for it." 

Yet how quickly he forgot, we shall soon see. Still we must 
not blame him; Fanny Brawne did not. She understood 
his nature, and the nature of his illness, too well. 



400 JOHN KEATS 

By the end of February, the outer world began to knock 
at Keats's door again. Bryan Waller Proctor ("Barry 
Cornwall"), whom he did not know, sent him his Sicilian 
Story y just published, and, shortly after, his first book, 
Martian Colonna y in place of a copy sent much earlier by 
Hunt who had forgotten to deliver it. In the interval be- 
tween these gifts, Proctor got Hunt to take him to see 
Keats. Proctor's impression of his host, gained on this and 
one or two subsequent visits, is particularly interesting, 
since it shows that to strangers the effect of Keats's per- 
sonality was the same that it had always been. Proctor 
describes 1 him thus: 

" I was introduced to him by Leigh Hunt, and found him 
very pleasant, and free from all affectation in manner and 
opinion. Indeed it would be difficult to discover a man 
with a more bright and open countenance. He was always 
ready to hear and to reply; to discuss, to reason, to admit; 
and to join in serious talk or common gossip ... I never en- 
countered a more manly and simple young man. 

In person he was short, and had eyes large and wonder- 
fully luminous, and a resolute bearing; not defiant, but well 
sustained." 

Keats considered Proctor's sending him the books "a 
specimen of great politeness," but the poems themselves 
he could not like. He wrote to Reynolds: 

" I confess they teaze me they are composed of 
amiability, the Seasons, the Leaves, the Moon &c. upon 
which he rings (according to Hunt's expression) triple bob 
majors. However that is nothing I think he likes poetry 
for its own sake, not his." 

Another reminder of the world came in the shape of a 
hint from his publishers that they should like to start on 
the printing of his new book as soon as possible. This 
was welcome, but rather appalling, news; however, before 

1 Recollections of Men of Letters, by B. W. Proctor. 



ILLNESS 401 

anything could be done, Keats was taken suddenly quite 
ill, not with a haemorrhage this time, but with something 
in the nature of a heart attack. It occurred on Monday, 
March sixth, and on Wednesday, the eighth, he was still so 
ill that his condition excited real alarm and caused Brown 
to write the following letter to Taylor: 1 

"Hampstead 
Wednesday 8th March. 
DEAR TAYLOR, 

Poor Keats will be unable to prepare his Poems for the 
Press for a long time. He was taken on Monday evening 
with violent palpitations at the heart, and has since re- 
mained too weak to get up. I expect Dr. Bree every hour. 

I am wretchedly depressed. 

Your's sincerely, 

CHAS BROWN." 

On the reverse of the sheet, Brown added: 

" If you come, do not let him hear your voice, as the 
slightest circumstance tending to create surprize, or any 
other emotion, must be avoided. 

C.B. 

P.S. Since writing the above, Dr. Bree has been here, and 
I am rejoiced to say gives very favourable hopes. 

C.B." 

Two days later, however, Keats was up and about again, 
and even able to resume his walks in the garden. He was 
very nervous, but this was laid at the door of his enervat- 
ing diet. How fearfully wide of the mark Dr. Bree's diag- 
nosis was, can be seen by the following letter, also from 
Brown to Taylor: 2 

"Hampstead 
Friday 10 March 

DEAR TAYLOR, 

After my dismal note I am glad to be able to give you 

1 Unpublished letter in Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 

2 Ibid. 



402 JOHN KEATS 

good news. Keats is so well as to be out of danger. We 
intend, if the weather remain kindly, to go to the coast of 
Hants. He walked in the garden to-day. You will suspect 
I gave a useless alarm, but I wrote at the time I was told it 
was possible he might suddenly be lost to us in one of those 
fits. Hessey's letter came, & I opened it, for Keats could 
not endure even the circumstance of a letter being put in 
his hands, nor can he bear it even yet, tho' I consider 
him perfectly out of danger, & I am happy to tell you that 
we are now assured there is no pulmonary affection, no 
organic defect whatever, the disease is on his mind, and 
there I hope he will soon be cured. 

Your's sincerely 

CHAS BROWN. 
Remember me to Mr. Hessey." 

Dr. Bree's name in connection with the case shows that 
somebody had decided that a more expert opinion than 
Sawrey's was needed. Robert Bree was a Fellow of the 
Royal College of Physicians and a specialist on asthma and 
other diseases of the respiration. A treatise of his on this 
subject had, in 1815, reached its fifth edition. Two papers 
on The Use of 'Digitalis in Consumption show that he had 
some claim to be considered a specialist in that disease 
also. But, however eminent, Dr. Bree was certainly a poor 
diagnostician. 

As Keats got better, his mind reverted to his forthcoming 
book, and he determined to look it over and see that the 
poems were quite as he wanted them. Woodhouse, as we 
know, had many copies of Keats's poems, and these seem 
to have been tentatively put together by the publishers 
and submitted to him for approval. This manuscript he 
had passed on to Fanny Brawne, a most natural thing to 
do, and one which proves her to have been entirely in 
Keats's confidence as regards his work, something which 
posterity has been led to doubt. In a note to her which 
seems to have been written very soon after this seizure, 
Keats says: 



ILLNESS 403 

41 1 am much better this morning than I was a week ago: 
indeed I improve a little every day. I rely upon taking a 
walk with you upon the first of May: in the meantime 
undergoing a babylonish captivity I shall not be jew 
enough to hang up my harp upon a willow, but rather 
endeavour to clear up my arrears in versifying, and with 
returning health begin upon something new: pursuant to 
which resolution it will be necessary to have my or rather 
Taylor's manuscript, which you, if you please, will send 
me by my Messenger either today or tomorrow . . . If you 
meet with anything better (worse) than common in your 
Magazines let me see it." 

The last sentence makes it quite clear that Keats and 
Miss Brawne were in the habit of exchanging opinions on 
books as well as the books themselves. Such little details 
as this have been carefully left out of account by writers 
on Keats. They have believed Fanny Brawne to have 
been a frivolous and silly girl, and have taken no pains to 
verify the justness of the charge. That it crumbles to the 
ground on examination, my readers must by this time be 
well aware. Why Keats had never been in love before was 
largely because he had never met a woman possessed of 
both attraction and brains. Fanny Brawne had both in 
no mean degree, hence her ever-renewing charm for him. 

Another note shows Keats going on mildly with his 
work: 

11 It will be a nice idle amusement to hunt after a motto 
for my Book which I will have if lucky enough to hit upon 
a fit one not intending to write a preface." 

The "fit" motto was not found, and the volume ap- 
peared without one. Still a third note continues the story. 
(We must remember that these notes were daily messages, 
so that several notes means no more than the lapse of as 
many days.) Miss Brawne seems to have worried lest 
Keats were over-exerting himself, whereat he answers her; 



4 o 4 JOHN KEATS 

"I do not at all fatigue myself with writing, having 
merely to put a line or two here and there, a Task which 
would worry a stout state of body and mind, but which just 
suits me as I can do no more." 

Earlier in this same note, Keats even allows himself a 
little real hope, he says: 

"Perhaps on your account I have imagined my illness 
more serious than it is: how horrid was the chance of slip- 
ping into the ground instead of into your arms the 
difference is amazing Love. Death must come at last; 
Man must die, as Shallow says; but before that is my fate 
I fain would try what more pleasures than you have given, 
so sweet a creature as you can give. Let me have another 
opportunity of years before me and I will not die without 
being remember'd. Take care of yourself dear that we may 
both be well in the Summer." 

It must have been just about this time that Brown 
wrote again to Taylor. 1 This letter has no date, but its 
context places it with sufficient exactness: 

" DEAR SIR, 

Keats has been slowly recovering; yesterday and to-day 
however he has been greatly altered for the better. He 
wishes his Poems to be published as soon as convenient to 
yourself, the volume to commence with St. Agnes Eve. 
He was occupied yesterday in revising Lamia. It is not his 
intention at present to have a Preface, at least so we 
talked together to-day. He desires to be remembered. 
When will you come? for he must not venture to Town be- 
fore we have mild weather, & when? It is very pleasant 
at Hampstead in our parlour. 

Your's sincerely 

CHAS BROWN. 
Don't let any one take a Copy of Otho." 

Whether Taylor came out or not, no one says, but Keats 
certainly went in, tempted perhaps by a fortunate change 

1 Unpublished letter in Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



ILLNESS 405 

of weather. A recently discovered letter l from Taylor to 
the poet, John Clare, leaves no doubt on the subject. 
Writing on Thursday, March sixteenth, Taylor says: 

" Keats came to dine with me the Day before yesterday 
for the first Time since his Illness He was sorry he did 
not see you When I read Solitude to him he observed 
that the description too much prevailed over the Senti- 
ment But never mind that it is a good Fault. 1 ' 

It was fortunate for Keats that dinner in his day was an 
afternoon affair, for on that Thursday the sun set at six 
o'clock, by which hour we may be very sure that he was 
safely back at Wentworth Place. But, however mild the 
weather, it was a long way to New Bond Street, and the 
discussion of his own and other people's poetry was bound 
to be exciting. Keats seems to have felt the effects of his 
first outing a little, if we may judge from a note to Miss 
Brawne which appears to have been written very soon 
after this. He and Brown were expecting some friends for 
the evening, evidently, in spite of his fatigue: 

" In consequence of our company I suppose I shall not 
see you before tomorrow. I am much better to-day 
indeed all I have to complain of is want of strength and a 
little tightness in the Chest. I envied Sam's 2 walk with 
you to-day; which I will not do again as I may get very 
tired of envying. I imagine you now sitting in your new 
black dress which I like so much and if I were a little less 
selfish and more enthusiastic I should run round and 
surprise you with a knock at the door. I fear I am too 
prudent for a dying kind of Lover. Yet, there is a great 
difference between going off in warm blood like Romeo, and 
making one's exit like a frog in a frost." 

Much as Keats undoubtedly wanted to run round to the 
Brawnes' and see Fanny, the exertion loomed enormous to 

1 New Sidelights on Keats, Lamb, and Others. From Letters to J. Clare, 
by Edmund Blunden. The London Mercury, June, 1921. 

2 Miss Brawne's brother. 



406 JOHN KEATS 

him. He was still very weak, that was the long and the 
short of it. Indeed, it seems as though the work of revising 
had really been too much for him. And no wonder; revis- 
ing poems is no such easy matter as Keats, to allay her 
fears, wanted Fanny Brawne to think. By Monday, March 
twentieth, he had overdone it, and been commanded by 
Dr. Bree to write nothing for a time. On that day, not- 
withstanding orders, he scribbled a short note to his sister, 
in which he said: 

"According to your desire I write to-day. It must be 
but a few lines for I have been attacked several times with 
a palpitation at the heart and the Doctor says I must not 
make the slightest exertion. I am much the same to-day as 
I have been for a week past. They say 'tis nothing but 
debility and will entirely cease on my recovery of my 
strength which is the object of my present diet. As the 
Doctor will not suffer me to write I shall ask Mr. Brown to 
let you hear news of me for the future if I should not get 
stronger soon." 

Apparently Keats had kept on with his work in spite of 
the palpitations until finally the doctor put his foot down. 
But it is also possible that these last notes to Fanny 
Brawne were written at the end of February, and not in 
March, as Buxton Forman supposes. These hand-written 
missives, sent from one house to the other, are entirely 
without dates, not even the days of the week being given. 
Buxton Forman arranged them as well as he could, and I 
have seen no reason to change his order. The only actual 
dates which we have to guide us, in this instance, are the 
dates on Brown's two letters, that on the letter from Tay- 
lor to Clare (none of which Buxton Forman knew of), and 
that on the letter to Fanny Keats. I have cogitated much 
on the subject, but have finally concluded that Buxton 
Forman 's arrangement is probably correct, and that the 
facts are chronologically as I have stated them. 

Keats was in a decidedly gloomy frame of mind on that 



ILLNESS 407 

Monday, but the "present diet" certainly did him good, 
for on Saturday he was well enough to go to town for the 
private view of Haydon's finally finished picture, Christ's 
Entry into Jerusalem, at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. 

The Egyptian Hall was a curious building. Its name was 
derived from its fagade, which represented a bad imita- 
tion of Egyptian Architecture. For some years, it had 
housed a miscellaneous collection of objects, collected by 
the jeweller-naturalist-antiquarian, William Bullock. This 
"London," or "Bullock's, Museum" was an extremely 
popular resort in the early years of the nineteenth century. 
In 1819, the collection was sold at auction and its premises 
were to let. This was Haydon's opportunity. He imme- 
diately hired the large room upstairs for a year from the 
first of March, 1820, and having not a penny to bless him- 
self with, agreed to pay a rental of three hundred pounds. 
Haydon's account of the preparation of the room for his 
huge picture is among the most amusing pages of his 
Autobiography. Suffice it here to say that, by Friday night, 
March twenty-fourth, the preparations were completed, 
and on Saturday the hall was opened to the ticket holders 
for the private view, the public not being admitted until 
Monday. The private view was an immense success; the 
street was blocked with carriages, the passages rever- 
berated with voices; it was, says Haydon, "a regular rout 
at noon-day." The world of fashion had turned out in 
force. Drama, literature, the arts, the church, the state, 
and foreign states, all were represented, and there was 
the Persian Ambassador in a resplendent native costume. 
" The room was full," declares Haydon, " Keats and Hazlitt 
were up in a corner, really rejoicing." One wonders if 
they really were. Hazlitt's opinion, expressed in the Edin- 
burgh Review in the following August, is calm; Keats men- 
tions the event to his sister, but conspicuously without 
comment. 

Keats was in no condition to bear the hurly-burly of 



4 o8 JOHN KEATS 

such a scene, yet it does not seem to have been so disas- 
trous as might have been expected. A week later, on April 
first, he is able to tell Fanny Keats that he is getting better 
every day although subject to faintness and with the 
tightness in his chest continuing. About this time, Brown 
wrote to George Keats, informing him of Keats's haemor- 
rhage, but adding that he was now much better, and could 
"walk five miles without weariness." One cannot help 
fancying that Brown stretched his miles out a bit to relieve 
George's mind. On Wednesday, April twelfth, Keats again 
wrote to his sister, telling her that he had been to town 
"once or twice," but that he was not yet able to bear the 
fatigue of going to Walthamstow. 

Of the April weeks, we know little. There are no hand- 
sent notes to Fanny Brawne, which looks as though Keats 
were able to go about to a certain extent, and he com- 
pleted the revision of his poems and sent them to Taylor 
who was thereupon to make up the volume. Keats's con- 
fidence in his judgment seems to have greatly pleased 
Taylor. On Thursday, April twenty-seventh, he wrote to 
Clare: l 

" I have got all Keats's MSS. in my hands now to make 
a Selection out of them for another volume, as I did of 
yours, and I should like to write an Introduction too, as 
Editor, to speak about the unfair Reception he has met 
with from the critics, & especially from the Quarterly Re- 
view; but perhaps I had better not." 

As April drew to a close, Keats's annual difficulty pre- 
sented itself as a sinister horror. Brown would let his 
house for the Summer, as usual, and Keats must find some- 
where to go. That Brown should have considered leaving 
him in the state he was in, particularly when leaving him 
meant turning him out of house and home as well, speaks 

1 New Sidelights on Keats, Lamb, and Others. From Letters to J. Clare, 
by Edmund Blunden. The London Mercury, June, 1921. 



ILLNESS 409 

not too well for Brown. Ignorance of the true condition 
of affairs cannot be urged in extenuation of his behaviour, 
for if any man knew the complete facts, Brown was that 
man. The callousness of his action needs no emphasiz- 
ing; it is patent. The motives which actuated him, little 
as he may have liked to admit them to himself, seem to 
have been two. The first was that he was heartily tired 
of the post of sick nurse, and longed to stretch his legs and 
his lungs by going on another walking trip to Scotland. 
In short, he wanted to shake the dust of illness from his 
mind, and be foot-loose and free to do what he pleased. 
Also, he was expecting Abigail Donohue to bear him a 
child early in July, 1 and he may have thought it wiser not 
to be near Keats when that event took place, for fear of 
receiving an announcement of it, or having to repair sud- 
denly to Ireland. Not that he had any intention of doing 
so, but it was conceivable that the necessity might arise. 
Perhaps it did; we know nothing of his movements that 
Summer. 

Brown's second motive was, I fear, purely financial. 
The arrangements between him and Keats, according to 
George, 2 were that they should share the expenses of house- 
keeping. Keats may have paid off the debt he had con- 
tracted the year before with the first hundred pounds 
drawn from Tom's estate, but we know from George that 
he had other debts to discharge, which debts, according to 
Taylor, 3 amounted to eighty pounds all told, exclusive of 
the debt to Taylor himself. When George left to return to 
America, John had his second hundred pounds, and what- 

1 So the unpublished Memoir by his son says, but from what we know 
of Brown's doings the Autumn before, it would seem that the date should be 
June. Under the circumstances, Major Charles Brown may not have known 
exactly when he was born, or the manuscript may have suffered a copyist's 
error. From Brown's leaving Wentworth Place a month earlier than was 
his wont, I am strongly inclined to believe that the date was really June. 

2 Letter to Dilke. Author's Collection. 

8 Unpublished letter from Taylor to his cousin, Michael Drury. Febru- 
ary 19, 1821. Author's Collection. 



4 io JOHN KEATS 

ever, if anything, was left of his first hundred. A meagre 
amount to meet the expenses of a Winter, to say nothing 
of the Summer following, for George can hardly have ex- 
pected to get any return on his money short of a year at 
least. George told Dilke in 1 830 that, when he left London 
in 1820, a certain sum was due Brown, but that John had 
the money to pay it, and he believed did pay it. Now what 
seems most likely is that John could pay it, but, if he did, 
would simply have been obliged to borrow again, and under 
the circumstances the debt, or a part of it, was let stand. 
Certain it is that, after Keats's death, Brown sent in a bill 
to Abbey of seventy pounds for money owed him by Keats, 
which bill George eventually discharged. Now the Winter 
had been a very expensive one, with doctors constantly in 
attendance, medicine to be bought, and Keats utterly 
powerless to work, even for the future. Otho had brought 
them in nothing, and Brown found himself considerably 
concerned about his affairs. Rent for the house would be a 
present help, and he could not resist so evident a relief. 

It is but fair to Brown, however, to realize that he had 
already done a great deal for Keats, whose illness cannot 
have helped being a drag even on so buoyant a fellow as he. 
Keats's pathetic dependence upon him, while gratifying, 
must also have been wearying. The demands of friendship 
may be too great to meet, and Brown very likely felt that 
he needed a little vacation. His character, although sturdy, 
was not of a very high type, which I think does him com- 
plete justice in a nutshell. 

To have to move at this juncture was a most unfortu- 
nate thing for Keats. To hunt for lodgings took on the 
proportions of a nightmare, to go and live in them required 
a fortitude of which he hardly believed himself capable. 
His nervousness was pitiable. Foolish people, even doc- 
tors, suggested foolish things. Somebody advised him to 
give up poetry and take up the study of mathematics; 
somebody else probably, this time, Dr. Bree urged 



ILLNESS 411 

Keats to make the voyage to Scotland in the smack with 
Brown and sail right back again, " for change of exercise 
and air." 

After all, a rescuer was at hand in the person of Hunt, 
who was living at 13 Mortimer Terrace, Kentish Town, 
not far from Hampstead. Why not lodge near him, urged 
Hunt, where, at least, he would be close to friends who 
could keep an eye on him. It was not a happy solution, 
the obvious one was his old lodging at Well Walk. But the 
objection which Keats had felt to that the year before still 
held good. So Kentish Town was decided upon, and Keats 
found rooms which would do at 2 Wesleyan Place, and 
moved into them on either May fifth or sixth. 

At first, Keats seems to have really entertained the idea 
of going up to Scotland in the smack with Brown. He 
speaks of it as a settled thing to his sister in a letter written 
on the twenty-first of April. But before the time of de- 
parture came, he found he could not make the effort. He 
did, however, run down as far as Gravesend with Brown, 
where the friends bade each other good-bye. It was the 
last time they were ever to see each other, which, fortu- 
nately, neither of them in the least foresaw. At Graves- 
end, Keats left the smack and returned to London. 
Brown says that the smack sailed from London on May 
seventh, which was a Sunday, and he ought to know. But 
Keats evidently expected him to sail on Saturday. In 
another letter to his sister, written from Wentworth Place 
on Thursday, May fourth, he says: "Mr. Brown goes on 
Saturday." As Sunday seems rather an odd day for a boat 
to sail, I think it possible that Brown confused the dates 
of his leaving London and his sailing from Gravesend, and 
that the right date for the London departure should be 
Saturday, May sixth. Nevertheless it is also quite possible 
that the smack expected to sail on Saturday, but was de- 
layed until Sunday. 

Keats's moving into the Kentish Town lodgings on Fri- 



4 i2 JOHN KEATS 

day or Saturday was, without doubt, merely nominal. He 
probably moved his belongings in, but stayed at Brown's 
until the last minute. On his return, he went directly 
to Wesleyan Place, where he seems to have found wait- 
ing for him a bunch of flowers from Miss Brawne, sent, 
obviously, to give his new rooms a home touch. Hunt, 
too, must have come round immediately to see him and 
cheer him up. Since sailing vessels were dependent on wind 
and tide, it is quite probable that Keats spent a night 
with Brown on board the smack. It was only three and a 
half hours from Gravesend to London by coach, so that 
Keats was undoubtedly returned by Monday night at the 
latest. The sail had done him good. He came back fully 
determined to make the best of a bad business and get 
through the Summer with as little friction between himself 
and himself as possible. An undated letter, which appears 
to be his first from Kentish Town to Fanny Brawne, shows 
his mood: 



DEAREST GIRL, 
I endeavour to make myself as patient as possible. 
Hunt amuses me very kindly besides I have your ring 
on my finger and your flowers on the table. I shall not 
expect to see you yet because it would be so much pain to 
part from you again. When the Books you want come you 
shall have them. I am very well this afternoon." 

Keats was possessed of a strange obsession, without the 
realization of which it is impossible to understand him. 
This obsession can only be described as a sort of horror and 
foreboding which came upon him whenever he was re- 
moved a short distance from Fanny Brawne. He often 
suffered acutely when near her, as near as next door, but 
these sufferings were more or less spasmodic, and her close 
proximity kept them from going to any very great extreme. 
They remained sane, even when acute. Separations of 
some considerable distance, at least while Keats remained 



ILLNESS 413 

tolerably well, had the curious effect of lessening his mis- 
ery, particularly if they were prolonged. We have seen 
this happen, first at Chichester and Bedhampton, and 
finally at Winchester. Time and distance worked wonders 
with him while he was in reasonable health and when his 
exile was voluntary. What he could not endure were sep- 
arations amounting to no more than a few miles of dis- 
tance. A few miles seemed to drive him into an unreason- 
ing frenzy. He saw nothing but their last parting, and 
seemed utterly unable to occupy himself with a coming 
meeting. The agony of departure completely obscured the 
joy of return. Every sort of nightmare took hold of him 
until he reached a state verging on delirium. As soon as he 
saw Fanny, tantalizing as her presence was, his abnormal 
tortures instantly gave way to normal ones, if they did not 
vanish utterly, as they were quite apt to do. Why he did 
not realize this, and always seek her when he felt himself 
getting out of hand, can only be explained by the fact 
that when the fit was on him his abnormality had reached 
such a pitch that it was quite out of his power to reason 
at all. Kentish Town was only a very little way from 
Hampstead; there was no reason whatever why the daily 
intercourse should be given up. It was Keats himself who 
interdicted it, and made of their occasional visits to each 
other events of huge import which he must nerve himself 
up to, and the necessary ends to which left colossal regrets. 
The thing was a phobia, a mild sort of madness, which 
was all the more shattering because of its hallucinatory 
character. 

Keats had evidently made good resolutions as to his 
conduct in advance this year, but he comprehended himself 
on this score so little that here at the outset he lays the 
gunpowder train which is certain to blow him to bits before 
long. He tells Fanny Brawne that he shall not expect to see 
her for some time as he cannot bear the idea of another 
leave-taking. 



4 i 4 JOHN KEATS 

A week later, he is still fairly balanced, for he sends her 
this note, dated merely "Tuesday Afternoon." 

"MY DEAREST FANNY, 

For this Week past I have been employed in marking the 
most beautiful passages in Spenser, intending it for you, 
and comforting myself in being somehow occupied to give 
you however small a pleasure. It has lightened my time 
very much. I am much better. God bless you. 

Your affectionate 
J. KEATS." 

Not very effusive, we observe, he evidently feared to give 
himself a free rein, but calm and steady. In spite of his ban, 
Keats must have seen Fanny Brawne with considerable 
frequency during his first six weeks at Kentish Town, for 
during that interval we have only these two little notes to 
her and one long letter, and in the mood in which he was 
we may be quite sure that, had he not seen her often, there 
would have been more. How much Fanny Brawne valued 
this Spenser, we have already seen. 1 She cherished the 
volume for many years until it was unhappily lost on a 
journey to Germany. 

Keats continued to improve a little. On Monday, May 
fifteenth, he told Brown: 

"You know I was very well in the Smack; I have con- 
tinued much the same, and am well enough to extract much 
more pleasure than pain out of the summer, even though I 
should get no better." 

Here Keats makes a joking allusion to a stanza of the Cap 
and Bells which Brown had suggested that he send as an 
evidence of improved health, for he had written nothing 
since his haemorrhage, adding: "Let us hope I may send 
you more than one in my next." 

Hunt's society was perhaps not the worst he could have 

i See Vol. 1 1, P . 134- 



ILLNESS 415 

had under the circumstances. Hunt was light, easy, sym- 
pathetic, and, above all, cheerful. He seems to have got 
Keats to show him his recent manuscripts, and, on seeing 
what poems were not to be included in the new volume, 
promptly took two of them for his own new paper, the 
Indicator. One of these, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, he 
printed in the number of Wednesday, May tenth. Keats in- 
sisted on its being anonymous, and the signature appended 
to it was " Caviar," a reference, of course, to Shakespeare's 
"caviar to the general." Hunt's bungling finger in the 
alterations the poem underwent before publication has 
already been referred to. 1 

Keats did not feel up to original composition yet, but he 
was not entirely idle. There were the proof sheets of the 
Lamia volume to attend to. The contents of the volume 
had been decided upon at Wentworth Place, and, on the 
whole, the choice had not been badly made. The three 
great stories, Lamia, Isabella, and the Eve of St. Agnes were 
a foregone conclusion, as were the Odes, the only one of 
which to be excluded was the Ode on Indolence. These 
poems gave the volume a certain tone which was neither 
helped nor hindered by adding to them Fancy, Bards of 
Passion, the Lines on the Mermaid Tavern and Robin Hood. 
The book concluded with the fragment of Hyperion. Pos- 
terity, had it had a voice in the matter, would unquestion- 
ably have struck out the middle section of short pieces in 
favour of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Meg Merrilies, and 
the fragments of the Ode to Maia and the Eve of St. Mark. 
But posterity could not be heard from, and the taste of the 
time was well enough suited by the selection made. Sonnets 
and other short fugitive poems were, naturally, reserved 
for a later book. 

Keats's wish to have the volume open with the Eve of 
St. Agnes had evidently been overruled, but it would seem 
that at some period in the discussions there was an idea of 

1 See Vol. II, p. 228. 



416 JOHN KEATS 

putting Hyperion immediately after Lamia, which was 
abandoned. A title-page with it in that position is copied 
into Woodhouse's Commonplace Book. 1 Whether or not 
Hyperion should be printed at all appears to have been a 
moot question for some time. Keats was against it, but 
the fragment was greatly admired by Woodhouse. Tay- 
lor's and Hessey's opinions we do not know, but the Wood- 
house Commonplace Book, from the transcripts in which 
the choice of poems was made, records a vote against 
Hyperion* Whether the vote was unanimous, or whether 
Woodhouse made a dissenting minority, is not stated. (At 
least, I suppose from Buxton Forman's not mentioning it 
that it is not. I have not seen the Commonplace Book 
myself.) Woodhouse's admiration of the fragment was 
unbounded. In his notes upon it in his interleaved copy of 
Endymion* from which I have already quoted, 4 he says: 

"The structure of the verse, as well as the subject are 
colossal. It has an air of calm grandeur about it which is 
indicative of true power. It is that in poetry which the 
Elgin & Egyptian marbles are in sculpture." 

Holding such an opinion as this, Woodhouse could only 
have vetoed the inclusion of the poem on the ground that it 
was unfinished. Somebody was instrumental in causing 
the negative vote to be set aside, but, if it were not Wood- 
house, it was probably not so much a particular person as 
the general consensus of opinion among Keats's friends 
working on his publishers, for everyone who had seen 
Hyperion agreed as to its merit. 

A little note to Taylor, in which Keats complains that a 
printing-house change in his text in one of the proofs alters 
his meaning, is dated by Buxton Forman " 1 1 June," why, 
I do not know. I own the original and it has no date. 
That Keats was in a hurry to get his correction in before it 

1 Owned by Sir Sidney Colvin. * Quoted by Buxton Forman. Com- 
plete Edition. * In the possession of Mr. W. van R. Whitall of New 
York. See Vol. II, p. 226. 



ILLNESS 

was too late, seems evident by his having sent it by hand, a 
fact deduced from the minute care with which the note is 
addressed first, in the proper place, to "John Taylor 
Esq r . Taylor and Hessey. Booksellers Etc. Fleet Street," 
and then, on the flap, as a guide to the messenger, "The 
first Booksellers on the left hand from St. Pauls, past Bridge 
Street, Black-friars." 

Keats was not sanguine about the fate of his book. Some 
time in June, he wrote to Brown: 

"My book is coming out with very low hopes, though 
not spirits, on my part. This shall be my last trial; not 
succeeding, I shall try what I can do in the apothecary 
line. 1 ' 

In this letter, he tells Brown many things which show 
not only the temper he was in, but what he had been doing, 
and more doubtless were here, for there are several blanks 
in the letter. Brown was careful to edit what letters of 
Keats he gave to Lord Houghton, unhappily for us. One 
episode to which Keats refers is a call at someone's house 
(Brown has carefully deleted the name) where he did not 
make himself agreeable. With perfect candour, he writes: 

"The fact is I did behave badly; but it is to be attributed 
to my health, spirits, and the disadvantageous ground I 
stand on in society. I could go and accommodate matters if 
I were not too weary of the world ... I foresee I shall know 
very few people in the course of a year or two. Men get 
such different habits that they become as oil and vinegar 
to one another." 

The deleted name should, I think, be Dilke. Keats had 
been growing out of sympathy with Dilke for some time. 
Dilke's preoccupation with his young son frankly bored 
Keats, and the constant discussion of politics made him 
feel isolated and cold. Added to this was the fact that 
when Fanny Brawne went to town it was usually to the 
Dilkes' that she went. 



4 i 8 JOHN KEATS 

It must have been about this time, or a little before, that 
Keats's good resolutions slipped their cables and sent him 
whirling down the stream of feverish passion. Loneliness 
and depression could no longer be gainsaid, and in their 
wake, as always with Keats at this period, came blind, 
torturing jealousy. In this state of mind, he unwisely 
wrote to Fanny Brawne instead of going at once to see her. 
The pitiableness of the letter must have been its excuse to 
Fanny, there could be no other. A delirious man is not 
responsible for his ravings, and that the effect of his illness 
was to make him at times delirious, nobody with a grain of 
medical sense can fail to see. Here is the letter: 



DEAREST GIRL, 
I wrote a letter for you yesterday expecting to have seen 
your mother. 1 I shall be selfish enough to send it though I 
know it may give you a little pain, because I wish you to 
see how unhappy I am for love of you, and endeavour as 
much as I can to entice you to give up your whole heart to 
me whose whole existence hangs upon you. You could not 
step or move an eyelid but it would shoot to my heart I 
am greedy of you. Do not think of anything but me. Do 
not live as if I was not existing. Do not forget me But 
have I any right to say you forget me? Perhaps you think 
of me all day. Have I any right to wish you to be unhappy 
for me? You would forgive me for wishing it if you knew 
the extreme passion I have that you should love me and 
for you to love me as I do you, you must think of no one 
but me, much less write that sentence. Yesterday and this 
morning I have been haunted with a sweet vision I have 
seen you the whole time in your shepherdess dress. How 
my senses have ached at it! How my heart has been de- 
voted to it! How my eyes have been full of tears at it! 
I[n]deed I think a real love is enough to occupy the widest 
heart. Your going to town alone when I heard of it was a 
shock to me yet I expected it promise me you will not 
for some time till I get better. Promise me this and fill the 

1 Buxton Forman was unable to identify this letter. I incline to think it 
was incorporated in this one. 



ILLNESS 419 

paper full of the most endearing names. If you cannot do 
so with good will, do my love tell me say what you 
think confess if your heart is too much fasten 'd on the 
world. Perhaps then I may see you at a greater distance, I 
may not be able to appropriate you so closely to myself. 
Were you to lose a favorite bird from the cage, how would 
your eyes ache after it as long as it was in sight; when out 
of sight you would recover a little. Perhaps if you would, 
if so it is, confess to me how many things are necessary to 
you besides me, I might be happier; by being less tanta- 
liz'd. Well may you exclaim, how selfish, how cruel not to 
let me enjoy my youth! to wish me to be unhappy. You 
must be so if you love me. Upon my soul I can be contented 
with nothing else. If you would really what is call'd enjoy 
yourself at a Party if you can smile in people's faces, 
and wish them to admire you now you never have nor 
ever will love me. I see life in nothing but the certainty of 
your Love convince me of it my sweetest. If I am not 
somehow convinced I shall die of agony. If we love we 
must not live as other men and women do I cannot 
brook the wolfsbane of fashion and foppery and tattle 
you must be mine to die upon the rack if I want you. I do 
not pretend to say that I have more feeling than my 
fellows, but I wish you seriously to look over my letters 
kind and unkind and consider whether the Person who 
wrote them can be able to endure much longer the agonies 
and uncertainties which you are so peculiarly made to 
create. My recovery of bodily health will be of no benefit 
to me if you are not mine when I am well. For God's sake 
save me or tell me my passion is of too awful a nature 
for you. Again God bless you. 

J.K. 

No my sweet Fanny I am wrong I do not wish you 
to be unhappy and yet I do, I must while there is so 
sweet a Beauty my loveliest, my darling! good bye! I 
kiss you O the torments! 1 ' 

Keats's senses were, as we know, infinitely more acute 
than most people's; when to his normal abnormality in 



4 2o JOHN KEATS 

this respect was added the sting of sexual desire, goaded to 
a pathological degree by the nature of his disease, he could 
no more master himself than he could fly. No wonder the 
world was dust in his mouth and contact with his kind a 
burning nausea. These were all symptoms, a fact which 
we must never lose sight of in thinking of the last few 
months of Keats's life. 

Yet he did his best to "carry on." In the letter to 
Brown, quoted above, he speaks of going to an exhibition 
of old English portraits, which he managed to look at with 
sufficient interest to be able to describe a number of them. 
He also thinks of really starting to write again: 

11 1 shall soon begin upon 'Lucy Vaughan Lloyd.' 1 I do 
not begin composition yet, being willing, in case of a re- 
lapse, to have nothing to reproach myself with." 

Another thing he mentions is being asked by someone 
(another deleted name) to supper to meet "Wordsworth, 
Southey, Lamb, Haydon, and some more," but he did not 
go. "I was too careful of my health to risk being out at 
night," is his ostensible and sufficient reason, but we may 
doubt whether he was much tempted. 

The weather this month had been showery, and not con- 
ducive to either cheerfulness or well-being. Then, too, 
Fanny Keats was getting daily more restive and unhappy. 
Her relations with the Abbeys, never too comfortable, 
were approaching the stage of an open quarrel. Mrs. 
Abbey seems to have had a habit of nagging and complain- 
ing, and, worse than all, of throwing the blame of Fanny's 
fancied faults on family characteristics. Fanny Keats was 
a high-spirited girl, and her position was galling in the ex- 
treme. Just before Keats had left Wentworth Place, she 
had written to him of her inability to endure any more, and 
had begged him to do something to help her. But what 
could he do? Her seventeenth birthday was not until 

1 His projected nom-de-plume for the Cap and Bells. See Vol. II, p. 365. 



ILLNESS 421 

June, and Abbey was her legal guardian, besides, his and 
his wife's offenses were not of a kind which would have re- 
moved her from his jurisdiction. Keats, ill as he was, was 
utterly at a loss. All he could do was to beg her to be 
patient, the situation could not last forever, and explain 
his own condition to her, assuring her at the same time that 
as soon as he was well enough he would do all in his power 
to aid her, but that in the meantime she must get along as 
best she could. 

On Thursday, the twenty-second of June, Keats re- 
ceived a letter from his sister. What the letter contained, 
we can have no idea, but it appears to have asked him to 
go to town at once, either to see her or Abbey. Keats in- 
stantly prepared to go, but just as he was starting he was 
taken with a slight spitting of blood. This put an end to 
his going to town, but he did not go to bed, nor even, it 
appears, call in a doctor, and by the afternoon he was able 
to crawl round to Hunt's. He simply had to have some 
sort of companionship, he could not sit alone and think. 
We have a contemporary glimpse of this afternoon from 
Shelley's friend, Mrs. Gisborne, who wrote in her private 
journal on Friday, June twenty-third: 

1 " Yesterday evening we drank tea at Mr. Hunt's . . . Mr. 
Keats was introduced to us the same evening; he had lately 
been ill also, and spoke but little; the Endymion was not 
mentioned, this person might not be its author; but on 
observing his countenance and his eyes I persuaded myself 
that he was the very person. We talked of music, and of 
Italian and English singing; I mentioned that Farinelli had 
the art of taking breath imperceptibly, while he continued 
to hold one single note, alternately swelling out and 
diminishing the power of his voice like waves. Keats ob- 
served that this must in some degree be painful to the 
hearer, as when a diver descends into the hidden depths of 
the sea you feel an apprehension lest he may never rise 

1 Quoted by Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



422 JOHN KEATS 

again. These may not be his exact words as he spoke in a 
low tone." 

Doubtless the idea of this feat gave Keats the feeling of 
suffocation he had experienced in his first haemorrhage, and 
which seemed now once more an imminent possibility. 
Keats should have been at home and in bed, but can we 
wonder that he could not stay in his strange, unsympa- 
thetic lodgings and face this renewed discouragement 
alone? Yet going out was disastrous. On his return, he 
had another attack of blood-spitting and a doctor was 
called. 

Keats's new physician was Dr. George Darling, a gen- 
eral practitioner who lived in Russell Square. Dr. Darling 
was Taylor's physician, and he had a large clientele among 
literary men and artists. Among his patients were Hazlitt, 
Clare, Wilkie, and Haydon, he was also a friend of Sir 
James Mackintosh. He belonged, in fact, to that little 
group which focussed to a considerable extent in the back 
parlour of Taylor and Hessey's shop. It was quite natural, 
therefore, that Keats should turn to him, particularly if he 
had lost confidence in the doctors who had looked after 
him before, as was very likely the case. 

Dr. Darling was decidedly alarmed at the state in which 
he found Keats. Keats minimized his diagnosis to his 
sister, telling her that the doctor said he had nothing ma- 
terial to fear. Perhaps Dr. Darling had kept something 
back from Keats himself, but Hunt seems to have been 
thoroughly informed. At any rate, Hunt, although ill him- 
self of a " bilious fever/' at once begged Keats to give up 
his lodgings and move to Mortimer Terrace where he and 
his wife would nurse him to the best of their ability. It was 
a forlorn alternative from Keats's point of view. The 
Hunts, though kind, were feckless people, the house was 
full of children and the housekeeping often a riot of con- 
fusion. Yet Keats saw, and rightly, that he was far too ill 
to be alone, and on the next day, Friday, the move was 



ILLNESS 

accomplished and Keats installed as an inmate of Hunt's 
house. 

However lonely and haunted Keats had been at Wes- 
leyan Place, it was bound to be far worse at Hunt's. There 
is no loneliness so great as that experienced in the midst of 
people, and no haunting comparable to thoughts inces- 
santly present but entirely unshared by the other inmates 
of a house. 

The move to Hunt's did not stop the haemorrhages, as 
we see by a letter from Hessey to Clare, 1 written on Tues- 
day, June twenty-seventh: 

"You will be sorry to hear that poor Keats is very un- 
well. The sudden change in the weather has brought on a 
return of his old alarming complaint & he has been 
spitting blood for several days. Dr. Darling expresses 
great Apprehensions for him." 

Three days later, Hessey has no better news to report. 
On Friday, the thirtieth, he again writes to Clare: 2 

"You will receive with this a copy of Keats's New 
Volume & you will perhaps read it with still more interest 
when you hear the Author is very unwell. A Blood Vessel 
in his Lungs broke last week and he has been under Dr. 
Darling's care ever since. By copious bleedings and 
active medicines the evil is at present reduced, but the 
prospect of its return & the evidence it affords of the state 
of his Constitution make me feel the greatest concern for 
him." 

Keats's book was coming out in a few days, but he was 
too ill and too indifferent to be consulted in any way about 
it. This was particularly unfortunate as Taylor and Wood- 
house had begun to be a little worried over Hyperion. 
Keats had not wanted the poem printed, and after all it 
was only a fragment, perhaps it needed an apology, or, at 

1 New Sidelights on Keats, Lamb, and Others. From Letters to J. Clare, 
by Edmund Blunden. The London Mercury. June, 1921. 
*Ibid. 



424 JOHN KEATS 

least, an explanation. The more they thought of it, the 
more they felt that it did. Taylor had adhered to his 
resolution not to write an Introduction, moreover he had 
gone to Bath "quite exhausted," nevertheless something 
must be done. In the end, either he in Bath, or Woodhouse 
in London, ventured to insert a brief note in the beginning 
of the book. This Advertisement, dated "Fleet Street, 
June 26, 1820," was a serious blunder. It was also, with no 
such intention, an impertinence, since Keats was not con- 
sulted about it. His opinion of it will be given in a mo- 
ment, but to appreciate his annoyance one must know the 
Advertisement itself. I quote it therefore: 

" If any apology be thought necessary for the appearance 
of the unfinished poem of HYPERION, the publishers beg 
to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at 
their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the 
author. The poem was intended to be of equal length with 
ENDYMION, but the reception given to that work dis- 
couraged the author from proceeding." 

The book was ready for distribution on Friday, June 
thirtieth, as we have seen, and I believe it to have been 
published on Monday, July third. Reynolds, writing to 
Taylor on Tuesday the fourth, says: 

1 ' ' Poor Keats ! You cannot think how much pain Hessey 's 
account has given me: for if ever there was a worthy & 
clever fellow on Earth he is that fellow. His book looks 
like an angel & talks like one too." 

It seems from this as though Reynolds must have 
dropped in at 93 Fleet Street some time between Friday 
and Monday and found Hessey, who told him of Keats 's 
attack, at the same time giving him the new volume. 

Keats would have received his copies as soon as any 
were ready, and we can imagine his feelings when the 
Advertisement caught his eye. He, who was proud to a 

1 Unpublished letter in Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



cr. ' ' / 

XUt U -ftttu / 



ff a I ?'<< 



i 



ADVERTISEMENT. 



IF any apology be thought necessary for the 
appearance oftJ><unHnjshcd poem of 
the publisSfcrs beg to stale that, 
responsible, aXtiwas printefet their particutor 
, and contrary Jtfthe wisl^f the author, 
s poem wasjiffcnde^to have ^Jlfof equal 
r recep?Stfi Riven 

r ' -^ 

to that\prk discouraged the^ author tfbm pro- 



u 



18m 



PAGE OF A COPY OF "LAMIA" GIVEN BY KEATS TO 
B. DAVENPORT, ESQ. 

- 1 ////w*.v ft)/ led ion 



ILLNESS 42$ 

fault where the public was concerned, must have felt the 
reading of these few ill-advised lines like the pouring of 
vinegar into an open wound. That illness had not broken 
his fighting spirit is made abundantly clear by an inscrip- 
tion in a copy of the book 1 which he sent to Mr. Daven- 
port, a Hampstead neighbour. In this copy, before the 
Advertisement, Keats wrote: "This is none of my doing. 
I was ill at the time," and at the end he put: "This is 
a lie." 

Why Keats did not write this same denial in all his 
presentation copies, it is not easy to understand. But I 
have never seen it in any other, and I have examined not a 
few. For what reason Mr. Davenport was singled out as 
the recipient of this unique confidence, we shall never 
know. Probably some conversation not recorded was the 
cause. One would have supposed that Keats might have 
wanted Hazlitt to know the truth, but Hazlitt's copy 2 
has on its fly-leaf only the pleasant and unimpassioned 
legend: "To W m Hazlitt Esq re with the Author's sincere 
respects." The inscription in the copy given to Fanny 
Brawne 3 is extraordinarily laconic. Keats could not bear 
to write anything personal in a book which might be seen 
by others. His secrecy where his love was concerned was 
carried to an alarming point, and it is the answer to 
Fanny Brawne's well-known, but quite misunderstood, 
remark to Dilke ten years after Keats's death, that "the 
kindest act would be to let him rest for ever in the ob- 
scurity to which circumstances have condemned him." 
Fanny Brawne was not referring to Keats's poetry when 
she wrote this, she was thinking of, and replying to, a re- 
quest made to her by Brown in 1829. Brown was propos- 
ing to write a Life of Keats and had asked her to permit 
him to publish one of Keats's last letters to him which was 
almost entirely about her, although her name was not men- 
tioned. Keats's letter will be given in the next chapter, and 

1 Author's Collection. * Day Collection. 8 Author's Collection. 



426 JOHN KEATS 

my readers can judge whether any woman could have per- 
mitted such a letter to appear when she knew how agon- 
izingly the author of it had begged her not to let any detail 
of their relations, even the bare fact of their mutual love, 
pass her lips. Well as she understood that Keats 's extreme 
sensitiveness on the subject was the result of the morbid- 
ness due to disease, the injunction to her was sacred. She 
knew, as no one else did, how Keats had dreaded publicity, 
and in this remark (an answer, undoubtedly, to some far- 
ther suggestion of a biography) we see her protecting him 
even after death. The expression of her feeling was un- 
fortunate, certainly, but that it was misleading was exactly 
what Keats would have wished. She had read his letters 
to her; Dilke had not. It need not surprise us, then, that 
all he wrote in her copy of the Lamia volume was, in his 
most careful hand: " F. B. from J. K." The book, however, 
is full bound in diamond-tooled calf, a habit of Keats's 
with very special copies of his various works. 

In the beginning, Taylor and Hessey seem to have had 
some idea of printing the poems in the Lamia volume as 
separate books or pamphlets. On the back of one of the 
pages of a manuscript of Lamia, 1 a manuscript in Keats's 
handwriting, is a faint pencil memorandum (not by Keats) 
to this effect: 

" Isabella 500 32 
Lamia 600 35 

St. Agnes 500 29 

This day are published in 8 vo. form 3 shillings each 
Five Poems: 

1 Isabella 

2 Lamia 

3 St. Agnes 

4 Poems, Miscellaneous 

5 Hyperion, a fragment. 
The whole in i Vol. 8vo., price 12 & 6." 

1 Bemis Collection. 



LAMIA, 

ISABELLA, 

THE EVE OF ST. AGNES, 

AXD 

OTHER POEMS. 



BY JOHN KEATS, 

AUTHOR Or XyDTWON. 



LONDON: 

PRINTED FOR TAYLOR AND HE68EY, 

FLEET-BTBEET. 

1820. 



TITLE-PAGE OF THE COPY OF LAMIA GIVEN BY KEATS 
TO FANNY BRAWNE 

A ufhor's Collection 



ILLNESS 427 

The Lamia volume, when it appeared, sold for seven 
shillings and sixpence; the separate pamphlets were, it is 
evident, abandoned altogether, but one would like to know 
why they were ever contemplated. 

Taylor's enthusiasm for his new publication was un- 
bounded. Woodhouse had succeeded in inoculating his 
friend with much of his own belief in Keats's genius. 
Writing to a relative just before the appearance of the vol- 
ume, Taylor speaks his mind about both it and its author 
in no unmeasured terms: 

*"Next week Keats's new Volume of Poems will be 
published, and if it does not sell well, I think nothing will 
ever sell well again. I am sure of this, that for Poetic 
Genius there is not his equal living, and I would compare 
him against anyone with either Milton or Shakespeare for 
Beauties." 

Hessey was equally pleased with the firm's latest ven- 
ture. He had spoken of it in both of his letters to Clare, in 
the first telling him: 

" For my part, I think no single volume of Poems ever 
gave me more real delight on the whole than I have re- 
ceived from this." 

And in the second: 

" I think the simplicity of Isabella will please you much 
Hyperion is full of the most sublime poetical images, & 
the small Poems delight me very much." 

Keats was certainly lucky to have such men as Taylor 
and Hessey for his publishers, particularly when we add 
to them the firm's running mate, Richard Woodhouse. I 
am, indeed, prepared to say that, notwithstanding the less 
close intimacy of their relation, Woodhouse was the most 
uniformly worthy and disinterested of all Keats's friends. 

1 Quoted in Sir Sidney Colvin's Life of Keats, from information supplied 
by a great-niece of Taylor's. 



428 JOHN KEATS 

His tact and generosity cannot be too strongly insisted 
upon, but not until the discovery of a number of his letters 
in the manuscript volume I have called the Woodhouse 
Book in the Morgan Library did we know their full extent. 
Woodhouse seems to have imbued at least one of his sisters 
with his own feeling for Keats's poetry, if we may judge by 
a letter 1 from her to her brother in which she speaks of 
" that beautiful and grand Sonnet to the ' Sea/ " She must 
have read the poem in a transcript made by Woodhouse, 
since it was unpublished. As soon as the Lamia volume 
was out, Woodhouse dispatched a copy of it to Taylor at 
Bath to give to her, or perhaps to another sister. The let- 
ter 2 to Taylor which mentions this copy was written from 
93 Fleet Street, where Woodhouse was taking tea with 
Hessey, and at the end of it there is this pleasant piece of 
information: 

"Hessey has subscribed 160 of Keats & sold one 
Endymion today. So that the bard's works begin to get in 
request." 

This letter is dated simply "Friday," but I believe it to 
have been written on June thirtieth, and that the Lamia 
sent to Bath was one of the advance copies. The books 
subscribed by Hessey evidently referred to copies to be de- 
livered on the following Monday, when the volume would 
be actually published and on sale. 

We have seen that on Friday, June twenty-third, Keats 
moved over to Hunt's house. Hunt was making up the 
Indicator for the following week, and writing for it a paper 
entitled A Now, Descriptive of a Hot Day. Keats liked the 
paper, and, says Hunt: 3 "He was with me while I was 
writing and reading it to him, and contributed one or two 
of the passages." Several passages in this paper are very 
like Keats; of two of these I have so little doubt that I give 
them here: 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 9 Ibid. 

1 Leigh Hunt's Autobiography. 



ILLNESS 429 

" Now rooms with the sun upon them become intolerable ; 
and the apothecary's apprentice, with a bitterness beyond 
aloes, thinks of the pond he used to bathe in at school . . . 

[Of boys] Now also they make suckers of leather, and 
bathe all day long in rivers and ponds, and follow the 
fish into their cool corners, and say millions of 'MY eyes !' 
at ' tittle-bats/ " 

It is quite characteristic of Keats to be able to do this 
sort of thing even when he was in reality depressed be- 
yond measure. Besides, such reminiscences as this, such 
recalling of the pleasures of his boyhood, is on a par with 
his musings on the field flowers, confided to Rice a few 
months before. 1 This paper came out in the Indicator for 
June twenty-eighth, and in the same number Hunt printed 
Keats's As Hermes once took to his feathers light, again over 
the signature "Caviar." 

By the second week of July, Dr. Darling seems to have 
decided that a more expert opinion than his was needed, 
that somebody who might be considered a specialist 
should be called in consultation. The physician sum- 
moned was Dr. William Lam be. Dr. Lam be was, like Dr. 
Bree, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and he 
was also a most kind-hearted and generous man. Con- 
sidered a bit of a fanatic, being a pronounced vegetarian, 
his practice was not large, so that he lived out of town, at 
the same time maintaining a consulting room at 2 Bedford 
(now Theobald's) Road, Bedford Row, where he saw 
patients three times a week. Why Dr. Bree was not sent 
for was probably because, in Keats's opinion, he had not 
been too successful in his treatment of the last attack, and 
also because Keats's exchequer was not in a condition to 
afford him. Dr. Lam be, on the other hand, often gave his 
services to people who had not the money to pay for them, 
and was, moreover, the author of a work on the Cure of 
Constitutional Diseases, with particular reference to scrof- 

1 See Vol. II, p. 395- 



430 JOHN KEATS 

ula, consumption, cancer, and gout, a fact which gave him 
a strong recommendation. 

Dr. Lambe recognized the seriousness of Keats's condi- 
tion immediately and made no secret of his opinion. He 
was explicit in one thing. Keats could not survive another 
Winter in England, he must somehow contrive to go to 
Italy. This was a terrible decree, but Dr. Lambe would 
allow of no alternative. Truly, to Keats, it seemed as 
though horror after horror were being laid upon his head. 
Where turn, where look for any least brightness to lighten 
his gloom ? Again we have recourse to Mrs. Gisborne, who 
has painted for us an unforgettable picture of Keats at this 
time. Once more I quote from her journal: 

"Wednesday 12 July. We drank tea at Mr. Hunt's; I 
was much pained by the sight of poor Keats, under 
sentence of death from Dr. Lamb. He never spoke and 
looks emaciated." 

It seems to have been immediately after this that Mr. 
Gisborne wrote to Shelley his dismal account of Keats, 
which account induced Shelley to invite Keats to stay with 
him at Pisa. We shall reach this episode in due time. 

The situation was desolate in the extreme, and Keats's 
rapidly increasing delirium, which he could still conceal 
from his friends, but not from Fanny Brawne, made it 
worse. The letters written to her from Hunt's house are 
simply the expression of a mortal agony. Keats finds cause 
for jealousy and torment in the most innocent visits. He 
forgets entirely the long weeks of her voluntary confine- 
ment at Wentworth Place, and fails to understand that 
now that she could not see him at all hours she must, if she 
would preserve her health and sanity, lead a normal life as 
far as possible. Doubtless her mother who, nevertheless, 
loved Keats dearly, as he did her encouraged Fanny to 
go about a little. Much as she loved Keats, Mrs. Brawne 
loved her daughter more, and she could not help seeing 



ILLNESS 431 

that the engagement was a most unfortunate thing. For a 
girl not yet twenty to be engaged to a dying man is one of 
the profoundest tragedies which life can mete out. At the 
bottom of her heart, Mrs. Brawne must have hoped and 
prayed that something would happen to end the engage- 
ment; but Fanny had a determined will and she was very 
much in love, and Mrs. Brawne was powerless. She fol- 
lowed the course which her wisdom and comprehending 
affection dictated, she did nothing but what was kind as 
regarded both Keats and Fanny, and waited. We know her 
attitude from a letter 1 written by either Mr. or Mrs. 
Dilke to a correspondent whose name is not given: 

"It is quite a settled thing between John Keats and 
Miss Brawne God help them. The mother says she can- 
not prevent it, and that her only hope is that it will go off. 
He don't like anyone to look at or speak to her." 

For some reason or other, Keats did not see as much of 
Miss Brawne at Hunt's house as he had done when he was 
at Wesleyan Place. Probably it was his own idea to keep 
her away so that the Hunts should have no cause to re- 
mark upon the frequency of her visits. Mrs. Brawne came, 
however, as we see by the following letter. I shall give only 
extracts from these letters from Mortimer Terrace, they 
will tell us all we need to know. None of them are dated or 
postmarked; I suppose they were sent by hand. The order 
in which Buxton Form an places them is implicit in the let- 
ters themselves. 

" I am tormented day and night. They talk of my going 
to Italy. Tis certain I shall never recover if I am to be so 
long separate from you : yet with all this devotion to you I 
cannot persuade myself into any confidence of you. Past 
experience connected with the fact of my long separation 
from you gives me agonies which are scarcely to be talked 
of. When your mother comes I shall be very sudden and 

1 Papers of a Critic, by Charles Wentworth Dilke. 



432 JOHN KEATS 

expert in asking her whether you have been to Mrs. Dilke's, 
for she might say no to make me easy. I am literally worn 
to death, which seems my only recourse. I cannot forget 
what has pass'd. What? nothing with a man of the world, 
but to me dreadful . . . When you were in the habit of flirt- 
ing with Brown you would have left off, could your own 
heart have felt one half of one pang mine did. Brown is a 
good sort of Man he did not know he was doing me to 
death by inches. I feel the effect of every one of those 
hours in my side now; and for that cause, though he has 
done me many services, though I know his love and friend- 
ship for me, though at this moment I should be without 
pence were it not for his assistance, I will never see or 
speak to him until we are both old men, if we are to be ... 
You will call this madness. I have heard you say that 
it was not unpleasant to wait a few years you have 
amusements your mind is away you have not brooded 
over one idea as I have, and how should you? . . . Any 
party, anything to fill up the day has been enough. How 
have you pass'd this month? Who have you smil'd with? 
All this may seem savage to you. You do not feel as I do 

you do not know what it is to love one day you may 

your time is not come ... I appeal to you by the blood 
of that Christ you believe in: Do not write to me if you 
have done anything this month which it would have pained 
me to have seen. You may have altered if you have not 

if you still behave in dancing rooms and other societies 
as I have seen you I do not want to live if you have 
done so I wish this coming night may be my last. I cannot 
live without you, and not only you but chaste you; virtuous 
you. The Sun rises and sets, the day passes, and you follow 
the bent of your inclination to a certain extent you have 
no conception of the quantity of miserable feeling that 
passes through me in a day. Be serious! Love is not a 
plaything and again do not write unless you can do it 
with a crystal conscience. I would sooner die for want of 
you than " 

The insult in the last part of this letter is the one and 
only time in his life, as far as we know it, in which Keats's 



ILLNESS 433 

taste, and his sense of chivalry, permitted him to do a really 
abominable thing. The ravings of delirium alone can be 
an excuse for it. The utter nonsense of it can have been its 
only palliative to Fanny Brawne. What she bore with in 
these letters cannot be overstated. Her pity must have 
been extreme to tolerate such selfishness and cruelty. But 
Fanny Brawne realized, as have too few of Keats's critics, 
that this was illness, illness so fevered and transforming 
that the man who suffered it was not responsible for what 
he said. If only we had some of her letters to him! He 
brooded and brooded over them until he read monstrous 
things into her simplest expression. That she may not 
have discovered how to temper herself to his comprehen- 
sion, is quite possible. Another woman might have found 
the key. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Love, misery, and dis- 
ease drove Keats temporarily mad, and the effect would 
have been the same whoever he had loved. And how many 
women would have, could have, stood such vituperation 
with Fanny Brawne's tenderness and sweetness? Yet even 
she seems to have resented this last letter a little, as we see 
by the next: 

"You complain of my ill treating you in word, thought 
and deed I am sorry, at times I feel bitterly sorry 
that I ever made you unhappy my excuse is that those 
words have been wrung from me by the sharpness of my 
feelings. At all events and in any case I have been wrong ; 
could I believe that I did it without any cause, I should be 
the most sincere of Penitents. I could give way to my 
repentant feelings now, I could recant all my suspicions, I 
could mingle with you heart and Soul though absent, were 
it not for some parts of your Letters. Do you suppose it 
possible I could ever leave you? You know what I think of 
myself and what of you. You know that I should feel how 
much it was my loss and how little yours. My friends 
laugh at you ! I know some of them when I know them 
all I shall never think of them again as friends or even 
acquaintance. My friends have behaved well to me in 



434 JOHN KEATS 

every instance but one, and there they have become 
tattlers, and inquisitors into my conduct: spying upon a 
secret I would rather die than share it with any body's 
confidence. For this I cannot wish them well, I care not to 
see any of them again. If I am the Theme, I will not be the 
Friend of idle Gossips. Good gods what a shame it is our 
Loves should be so put into the microscope of a Coterie. 
Their laughs should not affect you (I may perhaps give you 
reasons some day for these laughs, for I suspect a few 
people to hate me well enough, for reasons I know of, who 
have pretended a great friendship for me) when in compe- 
tition with one, who if he never should see you again would 
make you the Saint of his memory. These Laughers, who 
do not like you, who envy you for your Beauty, who would 
have God-bless'd me from you for ever : who were plying 
me with disencouragements with respect to you eternally. 
People are revengeful do not mind them do nothing 
but love me if I knew that for certain life and health will 
in such event be a heaven, and death itself will be less pain- 
ful. I long to believe in immortality. I shall never be able 
to bid you an entire farewell. If I am destined to be happy 
with you here how short is the longest Life. I wish to 
believe in immortality I wish to live with you for ever. 
Do not let my name ever pass between you and those 
laughers; if I have no other merit than the great Love for 
you, that were sufficient to keep me sacred and unmentioned 
in such society . . . Your name never passes my Lips do 
not let mine pass yours. Those People do not like me. 
After reading my Letter you even then wish to see me. I 
am strong enough to walk over but I dare not. I shall 
feel so much pain in parting with you again. My dearest 
love, I am afraid to see you ; I am strong, but not strong 
enough to see you. Will my arm be ever round you again, 
and if so shall I be obliged to leave you again? My sweet 
Love! I am happy whilst I believe your first Letter. Let 
me be but certain that you are mine heart and soul, and I 
could die more happily than I could otherwise live." 

What Keats had said about Brown was said in the pet- 
ulance of agony. His mind was a prey to a phantasmagoria 



ILLNESS 435 

in which everything was distorted. He loved Brown at this 
period more than he loved anybody else except Fanny 
Brawne, and would have given the world to be back with 
him at Wentworth Place. What he says in this letter about 
the gossips, on the other hand, had more than a modicum 
of truth in it. Certain of his friends did not like Miss 
Brawne, and had done their best to pry him away from her. 
The Reynolds family seem to have been the chief aggres- 
sors in this, and particularly the Reynolds girls. In their 
case, there is little doubt that vanity played a considerable 
part in their attitude. Not that any one of the three was in 
love with Keats, but that they so evidently failed in inter- 
est for him after he met Fanny Brawne. To be sure, this 
interest had already begun to weaken before Keats met 
Miss Brawne, but they may not have realized that, and, 
even if they had, they resented the appearance of another 
woman who not only captivated him at once, but held him 
captive. It was not long after this time that Miss Reynolds 
wrote to Mrs. Dilke of Keats's going to Rome, and in her 
letter she said: "absence may probably weaken, if not 
break off, a connexion which has been a most unhappy one 
for him." Reynolds himself is more violent in expression, 
as we shall see later, but he was evidently less open on the 
subject to Keats, who cherished their old friendship to the 
end although he does not seem to have seen much of Rey- 
nolds this Summer, and he never wrote to him again. Rey- 
nolds's brilliant pugilistic joke, The Fancy , purporting to be 
by a certain "Peter Corcoran," appeared shortly before the 
Lamia volume. Keats must have read and liked it, if he 
had not already done so in manuscript, but we have no 
record of his opinion. One thing in this letter must not 
be overlooked: the absolute injunction to secrecy laid upon 
Fanny Brawne. How could she, after this, accede to 
Brown's request, or give her sanction to any biography of 
her lover, which would necessarily, even if anonymously, 
include her relation to him? 



436 JOHN KEATS 

The third and last letter needs no comment: 

" I wish you could invent some means to make me at all 
happy without you. Every hour I am more and more 
concentrated in you ; every thing else tastes like chaff in my 
Mouth. I feel it almost impossible to go to Italy the fact 
is I cannot leave you, and shall never taste one minute's 
content until it pleases chance to let me live with you for 
good . . . Mr. Dilke came to see me yesterday, and gave me 
a very great deal more pain than pleasure. I shall never 
be able any more to endure the society of any of those who 
used to meet at Elm Cottage 1 and Wentworth Place. The 
last two years taste like brass upon my Palate. If I cannot 
live with you I will live alone. I do not think my health will 
improve much while I am separated from you. For all this 
I am averse to seeing you I cannot bear flashes of light 
and return into my glooms again. I am not so unhappy 
now as I should be if I had seen you yesterday. To be 
happy with you seems such an impossibility! it requires a 
luckier Star than mine! it will never be. . . I am sickened 
at the brute world which you are smiling with. I hate 
men, and women more. I see nothing but thorns for the 
future wherever I may be next winter, in Italy or no- 
where, Brown will be living near you with his indecencies. 
I see no prospect of any rest. Suppose me in Rome 
well, I should there see you as in a magic glass going to 

and from town at all hours, 1 wish 

you could infuse a little confidence of human nature into 
my heart. I cannot muster any the world is too brutal 
for me I am glad there is such a thing as the grave 
I am sure I shall never have any rest till I get there. 
At any rate I will indulge myself by never seeing any 
more Dilke or Brown or any of their Friends. I wish I was 
either in your arms full of faith or that a Thunder bolt 
would strike me." 

While this anguish of jealousy and despair was putting 
Keats to the torture day and night, he was acting with the 

1 Probably the house on Downshire Hill in which the Brawnes lived 
between their temporary occupancy of Wentworth Place in the Summer of 
1818, and their permanent return to it in the early Spring of 1819. 




SILHOUETTE OF KEATS BY MRS. LEIGH HUNT 

' ' ' 



ILLNESS 437 

utmost courage as far as his visible life went. Of that vis- 
ible life, we have a little sketch in a letter to his sister: 

" Mr. Hunt does everything in his power to make the 
time pass as agreeably with me as possible. I read the 
greatest part of the day, and generally take two half hour 
walks a day up and down the terrace which is very much 
pester'd with cries, ballad singers, and street music." 

As one reads this, one cannot help one's spleen rising, 
unjustly perhaps, against Brown who had bereft him of the 
quiet garden at Wentworth Place. 

Another picture of this period has been given us by Mrs. 
Charles Cowden Clarke, who, before her marriage, was 
Mary Victoria Novello, the eldest daughter of the musical 
composer, Vincent Novello. Novello was an intimate 
friend of Leigh Hunt's, and the two families were on the 
most familiar terms. Miss Novello saw Keats at Mortimer 
Terrace, and many years later wrote of her inability to for- 
get "the last time I saw him, half-reclining on some chairs 
that formed a couch for him when he was staying at Leigh 
Hunt's house, just before leaving England for Italy." 
Mrs. Hunt, who was considered very clever at cutting sil- 
houettes, did one of Keats in this position, reading the 
paper, which brings him vividly before us. Although not a 
good likeness, the silhouette is a pathetic and important 
record of the seven weeks spent at Mortimer Terrace, when, 
he wrote to Brown later: " I was a prisoner at Hunt's, and 
used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day." 

Keats seems to have become greatly altered by this 
time; Severn, who went to see him in the second week of 
July, was much disturbed at the way he looked, and wrote 
to Haslam: 

1 "His appearance is shocking and now reminds me of 
poor Tom and I have been inclined to think him in the 
same way. For himself he makes sure of it and seems 

1 Coivin. 



438 JOHN KEATS 

prepossessed that he cannot recover now I seem more 
than ever not to think so and I know you will agree with 
me when you see him are you aware another volume 
of Poems was published last week in which is ' Lovely 
Isabel poor simple Isabel'? I have been delighted with 
this volume and think it will even please the million." 

Severn was gentle, kind, and enthusiastic, but he was also 
shallow and incurably, baselessly, optimistic. It was char- 
acteristic of him to like the Pot of Basil easily the poor- 
est of the stories in the Lamia volume so much as to 
single it out for mention. 

Once only does Keats seem to have lost his control be- 
fore Hunt. Hunt had taken him for a drive to Hampstead, 
and, most unwisely one would think, the friends got out of 
the carriage and sat for a while on a bench in Well Walk. 
Well Walk and its benches were so closely associated with 
Tom that Keats was entirely overcome. "He suddenly," 
says Hunt, 1 "turned upon me, his eyes swimming with 
tears, and told me he was dying of a broken heart/' 
Hunt was startled, this was so unlike the Keats he had 
known; "he must have been wonderfully excited to make 
such a confession, for his spirit was lofty to a degree of 
pride," is Hunt's amazed comment made three years after 
the event. This side of Keats, Hunt had never seen before, 
and was only to see once again, in the wake of a most un- 
pleasant occurrence. 

On Thursday, August tenth, a letter from Fanny 
Brawne was delivered at Hunt's door. Keats had gone to 
his room to lie down, and Mrs. Hunt, being engaged with 
one of her numerous progeny, told the maid to take the 
letter to Keats. This the woman did not do. She was evi- 
dently on the eve of departure, for, on the next day, Friday, 
she left, and on Saturday Hunt's ten-year-old boy, Thorn- 
ton, produced the note with the seal broken, at the same 
time telling his mother that the servant had given it to him 

1 Wishing-Cap Papers, by Leigh Hunt. 1823. 



ILLNESS 439 

before she went with injunctions not to show it to his 
mother until the next day. Mrs. Gisborne relates the whole 
story in her journal, adding that the note " contained not a 
word of the least consequence/' but that "Poor Keats was 
affected by this inconceivable circumstance beyond what 
can be imagined; he wept for several hours, and resolved, 
notwithstanding Hunt's entreaties, to leave the house; he 
went to Hampstead that same evening." 

Mrs. Gisborne's lofty "not a word of the least conse- 
quence" rings jarringly enough across the very real trag- 
edy that such a happening could not help being to Keats. 
It was a hideous shock which no amount of apologies nor 
reasoning could avert the consequences of. We know, as 
well as though we had been present, the almost demented 
state in which he must have arrived at the Brawnes', for, in 
his agitation, he seems to have gone directly to Wentworth 
Place. He had to see Fanny; but his intention was, after 
seeing her, to go at once to the Bentleys' in Well Walk and 
settle that night in his old rooms there. But here Mrs. 
Brawne showed her spirit, affection, and maternal instinct. 
She would not hear of Keats's leaving the house. He must, 
and should, stay right where he was, and she and Fanny 
would take care of him so long as he remained in England. 

What the relief of this decision, taken entirely out of his 
hands, must have been to Keats, we can very well imagine. 
Under the same roof with Fanny again, but more, far more, 
within the same walls, shut in by the same front door! 
Fanny at night only a partition away, or, at most, only 
across an entry. Fanny there in the morning, all day, and 
the next night. The days in which he would know her 
every occupation; if she went out, where she went and 
why; on her return, whom she had seen, and then to hear 
her say how little she had cared for them. If, on his better 
days, she aroused his desire for her to an aching pitch, 
even that was easier than the same discomfort fed only by 
phantoms, with the tortures of suspicion added. No sus- 



440 JOHN KEATS 

picion could survive their daily intercourse. Fanny, seen 
as an inmate of the same house could not help seeing her, 
proved to be just an attractive young girl, doing what all 
young girls do, and constantly ready to sit with him, talk 
to him, read to him, and love him as dearly and evidently 
as circumstances permitted. All that their engagement 
could sanction, Keats received; his quarrel henceforward 
was with fate, not with Fanny. The constant presence of 
Mrs. Brawne, too, was an inexpressible support. We know 
how sorely Keats had needed a mother. Mrs. Brawne 
began to assume that relation in his mind. The sick, tor- 
tured soul had found succour and healing at last. At last, 
but not to the last; Keats knew only too well that there was 
a term to this peace, that beyond the quiet walls of Wen t- 
worth Place lay Italy and exile, an exile which he could not 
even hope would end otherwise than with death. Recovery 
he believed to be impossible, and, without recovery, of 
what value was life to him ? He had lost every vestige of 
religious belief, even the consoling doctrine of immortality, 
which had given him some small measure of comfort after 
Tom's death, had gone. There was nothing beyond, and 
the present was slowly seeping between his desperately 
clutching fingers like smooth, lapsing oil. No, in this haven 
of rest and security Keats could know no real rest nor se- 
curity. His very happiness was unhappy with the tainted 
breath of change; yet, for all this, there was happiness. 
He told Severn afterwards that the most peaceful days he 
had ever known were those passed at the Brawnes'. 

On Monday, August fourteenth, Keats felt well enough 
to attend to some of his correspondence. He wrote to his 
sister, acquainting her with his present whereabouts, and 
telling her the reason for his leaving the Hunts. As to his 
health, he is quite explicit: 

" I am excessively nervous: a person I am not quite used 
to entering the room half chokes me. 'Tis not yet Con- 
sumption I believe, but it would be were I to remain in this 



ILLNESS 441 

climate all Winter: so I am thinking of either voyaging or 
travelling to Italy." 

For news, he relates the following: 

"Yesterday I received an invitation from Mr. Shelley, a 
gentleman residing at Pisa, to spend the Winter with him: 
if I go I must be away in a Month or even less. I am glad 
you like the Poems, you must hope with me that time and 
health will produce you some more. This is the first morn- 
ing I have been able to sit to the paper and have many 
letters to write if I can manage them. God Bless you my 
dear Sister." 

Shelley's letter has often been quoted, I will, then, 
merely say that Mr. Gisborne's account of Keats had left 
no doubt that Keats had consumption; we see, therefore, 
that Dr. Lambe had made this quite clear if not as a 
fact, at least as a probability to the Hunts, although he 
may not have spoken so plainly to Keats himself. Shelley's 
invitation was couched in just the right cheerful tone. 
Nothing could have been nicer or kinder than his attitude. 
Of Endymion, which he had had sent out to him from 
London by his publishers, having left the copy which 
Keats had given him 1 behind, he wrote: 

2 "I have lately read your 'Endymion* again, & ever 
with a new sense of the treasures of poetry it contains, 
though treasures poured forth with indistinct profusion. 
This people in general will not endure, & that is the cause 
of the comparatively few copies which have been sold. 
I feel persuaded that you are capable of the greatest 
things, so you but will. I always tell Oilier to send you 
copies of my books. ' Prometheus Unbound ' I imagine 
you will receive nearly at the same time with this letter. 
'The Cenci' I hope you have already received." 

Keats's reply, try as he would, lacked both the ease and 

1 Bemis Collection. 

8 Corrected from the original letter. Author's Collection. 



442 JOHN KEATS 

the courtesy of Shelley's letter. He neither distinctly ac- 
cepted nor declined Shelley's invitation, and rather tact- 
lessly offered some gratuitous advice on Shelley's manner 
of work. He was sensibly touched by Shelley's action, but 
Shelley as a poet was no more sympathetic to him than he 
had ever been. 

" MY DEAR SHELLEY, 

I am very much gratified that you, in a foreign country, 
and with a mind almost overoccupied, should write to me 
in the strain of the letter beside me. If I do not take ad- 
vantage of your invitation, it will be prevented by a cir- 
cumstance I have very much at heart to prophesy. There 
is no doubt that an English winter would put an end to me, 
and do so in a lingering, hateful manner. Therefore, I must 
either voyage or journey to Italy, as a soldier marches up 
to a battery. My nerves at present are the worst part of 
me, yet they feel soothed that, come what extreme may, I 
shall not be destined to remain in one spot long enough to 
take a hatred of any four particular bedposts. I am glad 
you take any pleasure in my poor poem, which I would 
willingly take the trouble to unwrite, if possible, did I care 
so much as I have done about reputation. I received a 
copy of the Cenci, as from yourself, from Hunt. There is 
only one part of it I am judge of the poetry and dra- 
matic effect, which by many spirits now-a-days is considered 
the Mammon. A modern work, it is said, must have a 
purpose, which may be the God. An artist must serve 
Mammon ; he must have ' self-concentration ' selfishness, 
perhaps. You, I am sure, will forgive me for sincerely 
remarking that you might curb your magnanimity, and be 
more of an artist, and load every rift of your subject with 
ore. The thought of such discipline must fall like cold 
chains upon you, who perhaps never sat with your wings 
furled for six months together. And is not this extraordi- 
nary talk for the writer of Endymion, whose mind was like 
a pack of scattered cards? I am picked up and sorted to a 
pip. My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk. I 
am in expectation of Prometheus every day. Could I have 
my own wish effected, you would have it still in manuscript, 



ILLNESS 443 

or be but now putting an end to the second act. I re- 
member you advising me not to publish my first blights, on 
Hampstead Heath. I am returning advice upon your hands. 
Most of the poems in the volume I send you have been 
written above two years, and would never have been 
published but for the hope of gain; so you see I am inclined 
enough to take your advice now. I must express once 
more my deep sense of your kindness, adding my sincere 
thanks and respects for Mrs. Shelley. In the hope of soon 
seeing you, 

I remain most sincerely yours, 

JOHN KEATS. 

That any ulterior motive in a work of art acts as an alloy 
to the purity of the metal, Keats was well aware. An 
artist's chief loyalty is to his genius; his selfishness is a sac- 
rifice made upon the altar of his dedication. In considering 
poetry its own ultimate, Keats was more purely an artist 
than Shelley, as he could not help knowing. 

Another of the letters of this Monday was to Taylor. 
In it, Keats says: 

"This journey to Italy wakes me at daylight every 
morning, and haunts me horribly. I shall endeavour to go, 
though it be with the sensation of marching up against a 
battery. The first step towards it is to know the expense of 
a journey and a year's residence, which if you will ascertain 
for me, and let me know early, you will greatly serve me. I 
have more to say but must desist, for every line I write 
increases the tightness of my chest, and I have many more 
to do. I am convinced this sort of thing does not continue 
for nothing. If you can come, with any of our friends, do." 

The "many more letters" resolved themselves down to 
one little note to Haydon, at least we know of no others. 
Haydon had, some days before, asked Keats to return a 
copy of Chapman's Homer which Keats had borrowed. 
The book could not be found and, in the end, Keats was 
obliged to buy another. In this note, Keats refers to an 



444 JOHN KEATS 

earlier one which seems not to have been preserved. Here 
he informs Haydon of the projected Italian journey, says 
his hopes and spirits are better, and adds: "I shall be here 
for a little time and at home all day and every day . . . 
Hoping to see you shortly," etc. 

Haydon went, but the visit was far from a success. 
Haydon appears to have been in one of his most self- 
righteous moods, full of the consolations of religion and 
utterly obtuse to the fact that they were no consolations to 
Keats. Here is his account of the afternoon: 

" The last time I ever saw him was at Hampstead, lying 
in a white bed with a book, hectic and on his back, irritable 
at his weakness and wounded at the way he had been used. 
He seemed to be going out of life with a contempt for the 
world and no hopes of the other. I told him to be calm, but 
he muttered that if he did not soon get better he would 
destroy himself. I tried to reason against such violence, 
but it was no use; he grew angry, and I went away deeply 
affected." 

It is a strange commentary on Haydon's exhortations 
that, in the end, it was he, not Keats, who died by his own 
hand. 

On either this Monday, or on the next day, Tuesday, 
Keats wrote again to Taylor: 

"I do not think I mentioned anything of a Passage to 
Leghorn by Sea. Will you join that to your enquiries, and, 
if you can, give a peep at the Berth if the Vessel is in our 
river." 

An enclosure in this letter proved to be Keats's will 
a pathetic little document, for all he had to bequeath were 
a few books, a few fallacious hopes, and some debts. Tay- 
lor, careful, kindly, and punctilious, endorsed the letter as 
follows: 

" Inclosed in this Letter I received a Testamentary 
Paper in John Keats's Handwriting without date on which 



ILLNESS 445 

I have endorsed a memorandum to this effect for the 
purpose of identifying it & for better security it is hereunto 
annexed. 

JOHN TAYLOR. 
22 Sept 1820." 

The endorsement on the will is: 

"N.B. on the 14 th August or the 15 th 1820 I received 
this paper which is in John Keats's Handwriting inclosed 
in the annexed Letter which came by the 3 dy post. l 

JOHN TAYLOR. 
22 Sept 1820." 

This is the will itself: 

" My Chest of Books divide among my friends. 

In case of my death this scrap of paper may be service- 
able in your possession. 

All my Estate real and personal consists in the hopes of 
the sale of books publish 'd or unpublished. Now I wish 
Brown and you to be the first paid Creditors the rest is 
nubibus but in case it should shower pay my Taylor 2 
the few pounds I owe him." 

If others hoped for Keats, he dared not do so for himself. 
He was setting his house in order and facing the worst. 

Yet, if Keats had been in the mood to be cheered by 
such things, there was at least the much better reception 
of his book than had fallen to the lot of either of his others 
to gratify him. 

We have seen what Taylor and Hessey and Reynolds 
and Severn thought of the book. Here is the opinion of 
Mrs. Dilke, written to her father-in-law at Chichester: 

8 " I am anxious to know what success Keats' new poems 
have. I do not promise myself a great victory. If the 
public cry him up as a great poet, I will henceforth be their 
humble servant; if not, the devil take the public." 

1 Threepenny post. 

1 Tailor. Not infrequently so spelt by Keats. 

1 Papers of a Critic, by Charles Wentworth Dilke, 



446 JOHN KEATS 

Review writers are hardly " the public"; they are more, 
and less. Keats was fortunate in his earliest reviewer, and 
would have been more fortunate still if Charles Lamb, for 
it was no other, had not seen fit to publish his critique in 
the New Times anonymously. Lamb was by way of liking 
Keats as a poet, he even considered him as " next to Words- 
worth" 1 among modern poets, a great deal for Lamb. 
Lamb began his review by quoting four stanzas from the 
Eve of St. Agnes, those in which Madeline kneels beneath 
the stained glass window and afterwards undresses, saying 
of them : 

" Like the radiance, which comes from those old windows 
upon the limbs and garments of the damsel, is the almost 
Chaucer-like painting, with which this poet illumes every 
subject he touches. We have scarcely anything like it in 
modern description. It brings us back to ancient days and 
'Beauty making-beautiful old rhymes.'" 

But, to Lamb, the "finest thing" in the volume was the 
Pot of Easily which he greatly preferred to Lamia. This 
latter poem he declared to be "of as gorgeous stuff as ever 
romance was composed of," and said that it did "all that 
fairy land can do for us," but for him " an ounce of feeling is 
worth a pound of fancy," and he returned "with a warmer 
gratitude, to the story of Isabella and the pot of basil." 
Hyperion he did not mention, which was odd, for it was 
precisely Hyperion which won most suffrages on the book's 
appearance. 

Lamb's criticism was published within a fortnight after 
the publication of the book, which made it especially valu- 
able. 

In July, also, the old, established Monthly Review, which 
had not noticed Endymion, published a review of the new 
volume. The Monthly critic blew both hot and cold; he 
praised Keats for his originality, but adjured him "to be- 

1 Crabbe Robinson's Diary. 



ILLNESS 447 

come less strikingly original." He exalted Hyperion as the 
best poem in the book, and damned the Pot of Basil as the 
worst; but he quoted the ode To Autumn in full, and ended 
by announcing that the author's "writings present us with 
so many fine and striking ideas . . . that we shall always 
read his poems with much pleasure." 

Hunt followed this by two reviews in the Indicator for 
the second and ninth of August. In order to fit his criticism 
into what we should now call a "column," but which Hunt 
speaks of as a "miscellany," Hunt told the stories of the 
Eve of St. Agnes, Lamia, the Pot of Basil, and Hyperion, 
interpolating into his narratives certain quotations from 
these poems. He also quoted entire the Ode to a Nightingale, 
as a comment to which he wrote: "The imagination of Mr. 
Keats betakes itself, like the wind, ' where it listeth,' and is 
as truly there, as if his feet could follow it." Hyperion was 
"a fragment, a gigantic one, like a ruin in the desart, or 
the bones of a mastodon." Hunt's remarks on Lamia and 
the Pot of Basil were slight and unimportant, and his 
criticism of the Eve of St. Agnes not so good as that pub- 
lished many years later in Imagination and Fancy, but 
his summing up of the volume was, on the whole, excellent: 

"The author's versification is now perfected, the 
exuberances of his imagination restrained, and a calm 
power, the surest and loftiest of all power, takes place of 
the impatient workings of the younger god within him. The 
character of his genius is that of energy and voluptuous- 
ness, each able at will to take leave of the other, and 
possessing, in their union, a high feeling of humanity not 
common to the best authors who can less combine them. 
Mr. Keats undoubtedly takes his seat with the oldest and 
best of our living poets." 

Hunt had done well, but, whatever Hunt might say, his 
opinion was discounted in advance by his enemies and pre- 
supposed by his friends; his assistance to Keats was, there- 
fore, negligible. Far otherwise was it with the Edinburgh 



448 JOHN KEATS 

Review, which had maintained so stiff a silence in regard 
to Endymion. Jeffrey, the editor, was conservative in his 
tastes, but a pronounced enemy of the Quarterly Review. 
Why he had so long delayed to speak a delay which 
Keats imputed to "cowardice" and which, he had told 
George the preceding September, "is more than the abuse 
of the Quarterly" we can only conjecture; why he 
spoke at last is equally to seek. Perhaps, as Sir Sidney 
Colvin suggests, influential Whigs like Sir James Mack- 
intosh had given him a hint to break silence. Whatever 
the reason, Jeffrey wrote a long article on both Endymion 
and the Lamia volume in the August number of the Re- 
view. He spoke of both books as "flushed all over with the 
rich lights of fancy," and said of Endymion: "We are 
very much inclined indeed to add, that we do not know 
any book which we would sooner employ as a test to ascer- 
tain whether any one had in him a native relish for poetry, 
and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm." The 
review was long, and full of wise praise and sensible ex- 
ceptions. Most of the paper was taken up with Endymion y 
but a short notice of the later volume contained quota- 
tions from To Autumn , Fancy > and the Pot of Bast/, which 
last poem won from Jeffrey the epithet "deep pathos" 
applied to some of the stanzas. He did not advise the com- 
pletion of Hyperion. 

This was all good, but the sale was not brilliant. If 
Keats had had an ounce of envy or jealousy in his composi- 
tion, the contrast between his own experience and that of 
the young peasant poet, John Clare, would have been a 
red hot iron to him. Clare was a recent discovery of Tay- 
lor's, who had brought out his first book, Poems , Descriptive 
of Rural Life and Scenery ', the Winter before with enormous 
success. It had leaped into the public favour at once, and 
been extravagantly praised by Keats's old enemy, the 
Quarterly. But not one syllable of all this do we hear from 
Keats, not a word of annoyance does he let fall, and I 



ILLNESS 449 

think he felt none. His measurement of success did not 
entail comparisons with contemporary poets. Writing to 
Brown toward the end of the Summer, Keats remarks: 
"My book has had good success with the literary people, 
and I believe has a moderate sale." Shortly afterwards, he 
wrote again: "The sale of my book is very slow, though it 
has been highly rated." Taylor, a little discouraged, speak- 
ing of the poems to a correspondent, admits: 1 "They do 
not sell very well, but I rather think the Edinburgh Review 
will give them a lift." He is more explicit in a letter of the 
fourteenth of August to John Clare: 2 

"We have some trouble to get through 500 copies of his 
work, though it is highly spoken of in the periodical works." 

Taylor goes on to say that the old Quarterly attack, im- 
puting to Keats a certain political bias, is what most 
stands in his way, at the thought of which the fiery pub- 
lisher bursts out: "Damn them (I say) who could act in so 
cruel a way to a young man of undoubted Genius." 

Taylor was a strong and brave partisan, who spoke his 
Tiind without regard to his pocket. How ably and sternly 
he could stand up for a principle and a friend, a letter to 
Hessey, 3 now in his turn gone on a vacation, shows: 

"London 31 August 1820. 
MY DEAR HESSEY, 

I have had this Day a call from Mr. Blackwood. We 
shook Hands & went into the Back Shop. After asking 
him what was new at Edinburgh, and talking about Clare, 
the Magazine, Baldwins, Peter Corcoran, & a few other 
Subjects, I observed that we had published another Volume 
of Keats's poems on which his Editors would have another 
opportunity of being witty at his Expense. He said they 
were disposed to speak favourably of Mr K this Time 

1 Quoted by Sir Sidney Colvin. 

8 New Sidelights on Keats, Lamb, and Others. From Letters to J. Clare, 
by Edmund Blunden. The London Mercury. June, 1921. 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. The original lacks quotation 
marks, which, for greater clarity, I have added. 



450 JOHN KEATS 

and he expected that the article would have appeared in 
this Month's Mag. 'But can they be so inconsistent?' 
'There is no Inconsistency in praising him if they think he 
deserves it/ 'After what has been said of his Talents I 
should think it very inconsistent.' 'Certainly they found 
fault with his former Poems, but that was because they 
thought they deserved it.' ' But why did they attack him 
personally?' 'They did not do so.' 'No? Did they not 
speak of him in ridicule as Johnny Keats, describe his 
Appearance while addressing a Sonnet to Ailsa Crag, and 
compare him as a Friesland Hen to Shelley as a Bird of 
Paradise; besides what can you say to that coldblooded 
Passage where they say they will take care he shall never 
get so again for a vol. of his Poems what had he done 
to cause such attacks as these? ' ' Oh it was all a Joke, the 
writer meant nothing more than to be witty. He certainly 
thought there was much Affectation in his Poetry, and he 
expressed his opinion only. It was done in the fair spirit of 
Criticism.' 'It was done in the Spirit of the Devil, Mr. 
Blackwood. So if a young man is guilty of Affectation 
while he is walking the Streets, it is fair in another Person 
because he dislikes it to come and knock him down.' ' No,' 
says B. 'but a Poet challenges public opinion by printing 
his Book; but I suppose you would have them not criticized 
at all?' 'I certainly think they are punished enough by 
neglect & by the failure of their Hopes and to me it seems 
very cruel to abuse a man merely because he cannot give 
us as much pleasure as he wishes. But you go even beyond 
that, you strike a man when he is down. He gets a violent 
blow from the Quarterly & then you begin.' 'I beg your 
pardon ' says B. 'we were the first.' ' I think not but if you 
were the first you continued it after, for that truly dia- 
bolical thrust about the so appeared after the critique in 
the Quarterly.' 'You mistake that altogether ' sd B. 'the 
writer does not like the cockney school, & so he went on 
joking Mr. K. about it.' 'Mr. Blackwood, Why should 
not the Manners of Gentlemen continue to regulate their 
conduct when they are writing of each other as much as 
when they are in conversation. No man would insult Mr. 
Keats in this Manner in his company, and what is the 



ILLNESS 45 1 

Difference between writing & speaking of a poem except 
that the written Attack is the more base from being made 
anonymously & therefore at no personal Risk. I feel 
Regard for Mr. Keats as a man of real Genius, a gentle- 
man, nay more as one of the gentlest of human Beings. 
He does not resent these things himself, he merely says of 
his opponents "They don't know me/ 1 Now this mildness 
makes those who are his Friends feel the more warmly, 
when they see him ill used. But this Feeling is not confined 
to them. I am happy to say that the public Interest is 
awakened to a Scorn of the Injustice which has been done 
him, and that the Attempts to ruin him will have in the 
End a contrary Effect/ Here I turned the Conversation 
to another Subject by asking B if he had read the Abbot, 
and in about 10 Minutes he made his Exit with a formal 
Bow & a good Morning. 

The above is the Substance and as nearly as possible 
they are the words I made use of. His Replies were a little 
more copious than I have stated, but to the same Effect. I 
have written this Conversation down on the Day it took 
place because I suspect some allusion may hereafter be 
made to it in the Mag. and I fully expect that whatever 
Books we publish will be received with Reference to the 
feeling it is calculated to excite in the Bosoms of these 
mosstroopers . . . 

I am perfectly sure he will never call on me again." 

As a matter of fact, Blackwood's never reviewed the 
Lamia volume at all. The nearest approach to it was a 
quasi-apology, quasi-snarl, interpolated in a review of 
Shelley's Prometheus Unbound printed in the number for 
September. But, in the same number, a scurrilous rhymed 
jibe at the "Cockney School" contains this refined allusion 
to the book: 

"We, from the hands of a cockney apothecary, 
Brought off this pestle, with which he was capering, 
Swearing and swaggering, rhyming and vapouring; 
Seized with a fit of poetical fury, 

Loud he exclaimed, * Behold here's my truncheon; 



452 JOHN KEATS 

I'm the Marshal of poets I'll flatten your nuncheon. 
Pitch physic to hell, you rascals, for damn ye, a 
I'll physic you all with a clyster of Lamia.' " 

To this morsel of admirable wit was appended a note to 
make it quite clear that "Johnny Keats" was the aforesaid 
apothecary. 

It is very possible that Keats never saw this number of 
BlackwoocTs, reviews in those days were far from punctual 
to their dates. And he may never have seen two other 
September reviews, the British Critic and the Eclectic 
Review. The first of these could " not approve of the moral- 
ity of the principal poems," but admitted that there was 
"nothing in the details" of them which "would appear 
calculated to wound delicacy," and it did pronounce the 
author " a person of no ordinary genius." The Eclectic Re- 
view fell foul the Advertisement, which it positively gloated 
over, choosing to consider it as a sign of recantation on 
the part of the poet. The Eclectic Review was the organ 
of "protestant dissenters, of various denominations"; 1 it 
need not surprise us, therefore, to find it hoping fervently 
that, but doubting very sincerely if, the author were a 
Christian. 

One more criticism appeared in September, in Colburn's 
New Monthly Magazine, edited by Thomas Campbell. 
The New Monthly was all praise, from the first paragraph, 
which declared that 

"These poems are very far superior to any which their 
author has previously committed to the press. They have 
nothing showy, or extravagant, or eccentric about them; 
but are pieces of calm beauty, or of lone and self-supported 
grandeur. There is a fine freedom of touch about them, 
like that which is manifest in the old marbles," 

to the last, in which it is prophesied of "Mr. Keats" that 

"if he proceeds in the high and pure style which he has 
1 Leigh's New Picture of London. 1819. 



ILLNESS 453 

now chosen, he will attain an exalted and a lasting station 
among English poets." 

For the individual poems, none of the short pieces were 
noticed, but Lamia was spoken of as "a mingling of Greek 
majesty with fairy luxuriance," the stanzas where Isabella 
digs up Lorenzo's head in the Pot of Basil were called 
"wildly intense," the Eve of St. Agnes was "a piece of con- 
secrated fancy," while the description of the Titan's cave 
in Hyperion was crowned with the climax of the reviewer's 
epithets, being considered "in the sublimest style of 
/Eschylus." Florid and indiscriminate as all this is, the 
review was in the right vein, and following, as it did, on 
the heels of Lamb, Hunt, and Jeffrey must have seemed 
to round out an almost unanimous chorus of praise. 

Added to these public tributes, Keats received an unex- 
pected accolade in the form of a letter 1 from a Scottish 
admirer, John Aitken, afterwards editor of Constable's 
Miscellany, but at this time teller in an East Lothian Bank. 
Aitken wrote in a strain of fulsome enthusiasm, begging 
Keats to come and make him a long stay, promising him 
quiet in which to work, "soothing affection," and a library 
"select and extensive/' Yet for all his nonsensical ex- 
pressions, it is quite obvious that Aitken's offer was sin- 
cere, and prompted by a real admiration. There is no evi- 
dence that Keats ever answered this letter, nor is it ever 
alluded to in his correspondence, but the letter itself was 
found among Taylor's papers. 

Keats's last appearance in print during his lifetime was 
a singular one, also it was anonymous. Hunt, who bore no 
grudge at his friend's summary departure from his house, 
printed four stanzas and a half of the Cap and Bells in a 
paper on Coaches in the Indicator for August twenty-third. 
These are the stanzas in which Eban, the page, takes a 
hackney-coach to drive to the soothsayer Hum's house. 
Hunt announced that the poem from which the stanzas 

1 Unpublished letter. Author's Collection. 



454 JOHN KEATS 

were taken was by "a very good poetess, of the name of 

Lucy V L ." The passage was very pertinent to 

Hunt's article, but I fear the joke came too late to afford 
any amusement to Keats, who was, however, willing to in- 
dulge Hunt in it. 

As the days went on, it became imperative to take some 
definite steps in regard to the proposed Italian journey. 
Keats wrote and asked Brown if he would go with him, 
directing his letter to where he supposed Brown would be 
at a given time, but no answer came back. Possibly Brown 
had gone to Ireland. The letter had certainly stated the 
facts imperatively enough when it said: 

" I ought to be off at the end of the week, as the cold 
winds begin to blow towards evening; but I will wait 
till I have your answer to this. I am to be introduced, be- 
fore I set out, to a Dr. Clark, a physician settled at Rome, 
who promises to befriend me in every way there." 

Relief from jealousy, and the nursing of Mrs. and Miss 
Brawne, had been of infinite benefit to Keats. On Wednes- 
day, August twenty-third, he wrote to his sister: 

"If I return well from Italy I will turn over a new leaf 
for you. I have been improving lately, and have very good 
hopes of ' turning a Neuk ' and cheating the consumption." 

Modern medical practice lays great stress on the impor- 
tance of ease of mind and placidity of surroundings for 
tuberculous patients, but no such idea had entered the 
heads of practitioners in Keats's day. A patient must get 
out of England and go to a warmer climate, no matter what 
sort of a climate it was otherwise, and no matter what con- 
ditions faced him there. No regard for what he left was 
allowed to change this decision in the least. Loneliness, 
discomfort, exposure even, were as nothing to the benefit 
of being somewhere a degree or more South of England. In 
sending Keats out of England, the doctors simply pursued 
the regimen they had been following all along: that of so 



ILLNESS 455 

reducing his powerfully resisting body that tuberculosis 
might have every chance to kill him as quickly as possible. 

Many and long must have been the talks between the 
lovers, and between the lovers and the mother. Buxton 
Forman says, presumably on Severn's authority, that there 
was some question of an immediate marriage, but indeed 
we know that from Fanny Brawne herself, as I shall show 
later. Keats wished fervently that not only Fanny, but her 
mother as well, could go with him to Italy. Yet it was his 
chivalry even more than Mrs. Brawne's prudence which 
denied him the peace of marriage under the circumstances. 
Still, hoping against hope, cheating themselves in the light 
of a false dawn, Keats and Fanny made their impossible 
plans. Mrs. Brawne was to live with them when they 
married, which was to be just beyond the fatal journey to 
Italy. So Keats, refusing to sacrifice Fanny, pictured out 
a future which, in reality, he never believed in. All his 
petty selfishness in little things fades away before the spec- 
tacle of his immolation on the spear of his all-embracing 
chivalry. He denied himself life to spare her the intimate 
experience of death. 

Years after, Fanny Brawne wrote to Medwin of Keats's 
last days in England, and her letter proves how well she 
had learnt to understand her lover: 

"That his sensibility was most acute, is true, and his 
passions were very strong, but not violent, if by that term, 
violence of temper is implied. His was no doubt suscep- 
tible, but his anger seemed rather to turn on himself than 
on others, and in moments of greatest irritation, it was only 
by a sort of savage despondency that he sometimes grieved 
and wounded his friends . . . For more than a twelvemonth 
before quitting England, I saw him every day, often 
witnessed his sufferings, both mental and bodily, and I do 
not hesitate to say that he never could have addressed an 
unkind expression, much less a violent one, to any human 
being. During the last few months before leaving his 
native country, his mind underwent a severe conflict; for 



456 JOHN KEATS 

whatever in moments of grief or disappointment he might 
say or think, his most ardent desire was to live to redeem 
his name from the obloquy cast upon it; nor was it till he 
knew his death was inevitable, that he eagerly wished to 
die ... I believe that the fever which consumed him, might 
have brought on a temporary species of delirium, that 
made his friend Mr. Severn's task a painful one." 

No one had experienced the "temporary species of de- 
lirium" so often or so bitterly as Fanny Brawne, and if, 
after what she had gone through, she could write in this 
way to Medwin, it is cruelty to question either her love or 
her comprehension. 

Meanwhile no remittance came from George, and Keats 
was on the eve of a journey and utterly destitute of funds. 
Brown was away, there was only Taylor to turn to, and 
Taylor rose to the occasion not perhaps entirely without 
an eye to future gain for the firm, if not in actual cash, at 
least in reputation. Taylor had an unshakable belief in 
Keats's genius, and was convinced that every assistance 
rendered him would in the end redound to his benefactors' 
credit. Basing his actions on this belief, Taylor promptly 
agreed to cancel all Keats's outstanding debts to his firm. 
He had, apparently, some time before, promised to take over 
the copyright of Endymion as an offset to the one hundred 
pounds advanced on that book; now he proposed to take 
over the copyright of the Lamia volume in the same man- 
ner as part payment of what was due at the moment, and 
to this he added the sum of thirty pounds, making the pay- 
ment for the Lamia also one hundred pounds. More than 
this, he gave Keats a letter-of-credit for one hundred and 
fifty pounds. 1 Taylor was one of the people who thought 
the whole seven hundred pounds that George had taken 
back to America belonged to John, and seems to have been 
fully persuaded that remittances from George would come 
before Keats's drafts from Italy would have to be honoured. 

1 Compiled from an unpublished letter from Taylor to his cousin, Michael 
Drury. February, 19, 1821. Author's Collection. 



ILLNESS 457 

It is quite clear that he entirely misunderstood the situa- 
tion, and that Keats, in his turn, failed to realize Taylor's 
point of view. We shall see the result of these mutual mis- 
understandings in the next chapter. Before Keats sailed, 
Taylor wrote him a letter. 1 It is endorsed "Not sent," and 
indeed is not quite accurate. He speaks of giving Keats 
fifty pounds, whereas later letters from him state the sum 
to have been thirty pounds. I quote this drafted letter in 
full, since, notwithstanding its one small inaccuracy, and 
its occasional blanks where figures are concerned, it is very 
illuminating as to Taylor's attitude and also speaks highly 
for his generosity and that of his partner Hessey. For, al- 
though Taylor promised more than he wished to perform 
in the matter of the letter-of-credit, nevertheless, so far as 
Keats himself was concerned, he was really generous. 

41 Fleet Street n Sept 1820. 
MY DEAR KEATS, 

Before you go out of the country I am desirous of ex- 
plaining to you on what Terms we conceive ourselves to be 
acting as your Publishers. In few words we may state it 
thus. Whatever we print we run the Risk of, and if it 
does not answer, the loss is ours: whatever succeeds we 
deem the Profit wholly yours; but if one work fails and 
leaves us a loss which the Profit on another would make 
up, we should consider ourselves entitled to be reimbursed 
that loss out of those Profits. If all, or the Majority, do 
not repay the Expenses, then the loss is wholly ours. On 
these Terms we are willing to go on publishing if you 
choose to write; we shall charge no Commission for our 
Trouble, meaning to derive no advantage; and we will 
render an account of the Sales whenever you please, to 
shew you in what state your Finances are 

I have put it in this light to make it plainer; but if we 
take the matter in another point of view it will amount to 
the same thing: consider then the Endymion ours, for the 
Copyright of which we gave ioo; and say that what we 
have already advanced to you in Cash since that Time, 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



45 8 JOHN KEATS 

viz is the Price of the Copyright of Lamia: now if we 
get anything beyond these sums by either of the Books, so 
as to have in our Hands on the whole more than we have 
given you, we will transmit that Surplus to you ; and so on 
with every future work. 

I make this explicit statement of what you would other- 
wise have discovered in due Time, to convince you that we 
have no selfish Ends to answer in encouraging you to write 
& publish ; and also that you may correctly estimate the 
Means we have in our Hands of supplying you with money 
while you are abroad. At present we are out of pocket 
I35 on Endymion, but that may be reduced by future 
Sales if your other works succeed Lamia has not yet re- 
paid the Expenses, there is therefore the advance on that 
to be added, making together with the Books mentioned in 
the enclosed Bill . You shall have so more to take 
you to Italy, and from thence you must draw for what you 
want, but I think you will not wish us to pay those Bills 
without placing some Money in our Hands for that 
purpose. If I were rich enough to do without the whole 
Sum that you might want I would gladly give it to you, but 
if I wanted it I know nobody who would let me have it. 

You will do well to publish again as soon as you have the 
power to produce anything, and the Success you may rely 
upon it will in every Instance increase. I hope yet to see 
you as rich and as renowned as you deserve to be. Mean- 
time wishing you a pleasant Voyage, perfect Health, and 
all Happiness, I remain, 

My dear Keats 

Your faithful Friend 

JOHN TAYLOR" 

That Keats left England with a credit of no more than 
one hundred and fifty pounds is proved by the following 
hitherto unpublished letter from the firm, Taylor and 
Hessey, to a certain "Brown Esq. Poultry," 1 whoever he 
may have been a relative of Charles Brown's perhaps, 
but certainly not he himself, for Charles Brown did not 

1 Copy in Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



ILLNESS 459 

reach London until September eighteenth, also he had no 
corresponding business house at Naples. 

, "Fleet Street 

19 Sept 1820 
SIR 

In compliance with the wish you expressed on Saturday 
last we write to inform you that we will honor the Bills of 
Mr. John Keats of Naples to the amount of one Hundred 
and Fifty pounds; and you will much oblige us by allowing 
and directing that those Bills should be negotiated through 
the Medium of your House at Naples. Mr. Keats sailed on 
Sunday last in the Maria Crowther. 

We are Yrs try 
T&H" 

Taylor had not only bestirred himself in the matter of 
money, he had found a vessel due to sail for Naples in the 
middle of September. This was the "Maria Crowther," a 
small brig. 1 She had been built in 1810, for the Bristol, 
Liverpool and Holyhead trade, and is listed as one of the 
regular trading ships in that trade in Stewart's Gentleman's 
and Citizen's Almanack for 1816. She had lately changed 
captains, and probably owners, as well as route. 

All was arranged, but still Brown had not been heard 
from, and Keats faced the possibility of making the voyage, 
and living in Italy, alone. There seemed no one in a posi- 
tion to go with him, when suddenly Haslam thought of 
Severn. Severn was as poor as a church mouse (although, 
as a matter of fact, less destitute than Keats), and he was 
not getting on any too well as regarded his financial pros- 
pects in England. Haslam went round to see him one eve- 
ning to suggest that he pick up stakes and go to Rome with 
Keats. Rome, in those days, was the artist's Mecca, every 
artist wanted to get there, and many who won scholarships 
did. Haslam's proposal was not quite so crazy as it sounds, 

1 Not a brigantine, as is usually stated. Severn's picture of the vessel 
in the Keats Memorial Volume makes her rig quite clear. 



460 JOHN KEATS 

for embedded in it was the very practical idea that, while in 
Rome, subject to her artistic influences and in touch with 
her resident painters, Severn, who had won the Royal 
Academy's gold medal the previous Winter with his Cave 
of Despair, should paint a picture and submit it for that 
society's travelling scholarship, which, if he won it, would 
enable him to stay in Rome for future study. His getting 
the scholarship was the merest chance, of course, but with- 
out such a chance it would have been utter folly for Severn 
to have considered the journey, no matter how strongly 
importuned by his old affection and admiration for Keats 
to do so. Haslam's call took place only a few days before 
the time when the " Maria Crowther " was expected to sail. 
In one set of reminiscences, Severn says he had three or 
four days to get ready; in another, he declares that he 
started the very next morning. Since he had time to call 
on Sir Thomas Lawrence and obtain an introduction to 
Canova, and to collect from a lady twenty-five pounds 
owing him for a miniature, it seems likely that some days 
at least intervened between his acceptance of Haslam's 
proposal and the putting of it into effect. At any rate, it 
was all very quickly done, and Keats had secured a com- 
panion, if not by any means the one he would have chosen. 
It was agreed that the travellers should meet at the dock. 
Severn had a hard time to get away. His father was 
violently opposed to his going; but go he did, with the 
twenty-five pounds miniature money as his sole travelling 
expense fund. 

It had been decided that Keats should move in town to 
Taylor's house, 91 New Bond Street, a few days before the 
expected time of departure, in order to be on hand when 
the "Maria Crowther" should actually sail. When he 
went, no letter nor account yet discovered states. In a 
copy of Hunt's Literary Pocket Book for 1819, which Keats 
had given her, under the date of September eighth, Miss 
Brawne wrote: "Mr. Keats left Hampstead." On the 



ILLNESS 461 

eighth of September, 1819, Keats was at Winchester. But 
September eighth, 1820, was a Friday, and Keats did not 
sail until a week from the following Sunday. It seems most 
unlikely, therefore, that he should have gone to Taylor's so 
long in advance. No amount of juggling with possibilities 
of confusion between the calendars of the two years yields 
anything like a clue, and we must resign ourselves to igno- 
rance of the day on which Keats left Wentworth Place. 1 
But it was undoubtedly there that he and Fanny Brawne 
bade each other good-bye. Each of them knew it was for- 
ever. She tried to hope; he knew too well that there was no 
hope. His last months were spent in trying to wean him- 
self from the world, for to hope against what his reason 
knew would come was too great a torture. From the mo- 
ment that the sight of Fanny Brawne disappeared from his 
eyes, from that moment, Keats entered on his final agony, 
an agony without respite till the end. His "posthumous 
life," as he called it later, began then, and in watching the 
anguish of the next five months, in trying to comprehend 
his attitude during them, we must never forget that in his 
own mind he was a dead man from that very instant. His 
behaviour, baffling as much of it seems, can only be under- 
stood by constantly remembering this. 

For a day or two, Keats remained at Taylor's, and just 
before he left, Woodhouse wrote him a letter, 2 which seems 
to have been given him to read after he and Woodhouse had 
taken leave of each other. This letter was calculated to 
ease Keats's mind of the problem of what was to be done 
when his one hundred and fifty pounds were spent. It was 
a kindly thought on Woodhouse's part, and the straight- 
forwardness of his expression could not have failed to in- 
spire perfect confidence in his absolute sincerity: 

1 Sir Sidney Colvin states that he went to Taylor's on Wednesday, 
September thirteenth, but does not give his authority. Possibly I have 
missed some evidence which Sir Sidney has seen, I have certainly found 
none. 

2 Author's Collection. 



462 JOHN KEATS 

"My DEAR KEATS, 

Upon subjects like those in this letter, it is to me always 
more pleasant to write than to speak. It gave me pleas- 
ure to learn from Taylor that you are leaving us tolerably 
easy as to money matters. The more so, as, from par- 
ticular circumstances, my own finances, have had, and for 
the next six months or so will have, considerable drains 
upon them; which would make it not very convenient to 
me just now to render you assistance in that way. But 
when I am a little recruited, which will I hope be about the 
time I have above mentioned, if you should have any 
wants of that nature, it would give me the greatest satis- 
faction to answer your draft; & you would of course, to 
prevent any disappointments, give me as much previous 
notice as you could, I am sure you would not needlessly 
call upon me: and, with that conviction, I should be 
despicable in my own eyes, if, with the means, I wanted 
the will to assist you. What is the value of Pelf after the 
supply of one's own wants? Of none to me. And there 
is no one who would be more welcome than yourself to 
share my little superfluities. 

God bless you ! Take care of yourself, if it be only 
for your friends' sake. Above all, keep your mind at ease. 
There are many who take more than a brotherly Interest 
in your welfare. There is certainly 

1 one, whose hand will never scant 

From all his poor store of fruits all thou canst want.' 
And he is 

Yours very sincerely 

& affectionately, 

RlCEP WOODHOUSE. 

Sat* night. 16 Sep. 1820 
Kings Bench Walk Temple" 

On Saturday, also, Keats's passport 1 arrived. This 
most important document has only recently come to light. 
It is the usual official printed form, filled in with the requi- 
site names. Beginning with the ambassador's name and 
his credentials from "His Majesty the King of the King- 

1 In the possession of Mr. Oliver R. Barrett of Chicago. 




D. COSfTANTINO GUGLIELMO 
DB LUDOLF, 




, 

1W> ditto di eUA MAB8TA it EB 

DRLUt BOB MCILIB pNM Kt'A MAE8TA IL 
OflRO PBLU GUAM BlBTAfllf A BD 
1BLANDA. ' 



iBrariebwmn lutfi MmMn di 8. >l o 1nlfi Him fffiuili Politin 
t Milimri; e ^11. drilc Pmcnitc Amirtir oil Alkik- |>rrghuuii<> di non 
pemeltcro rho^^-'Nl firrw outwit ilrnno, niizi v i pmli ogoi fnvorv 
BMHU rio per *gi.* il /- >ww. 





KEATS'S PASSPORT TO ITALY (FIRST PAGE) 
From the onyinul in the yw.w,v</ww w/ Oltrer 11. Jjanrlt, Esq. 



ILLNESS 463 

dom of the Two Sicilies" to "His Majesty the King of the 
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland," the docu- 
ment continues: 

"Leaving this Capital for Naples on the English Vessel 
Maria Crowther commanded by Captain Thomas Walsh is 
Mr. John Keats British subject." 

Here follows the charge to "all the Ministers of His Ma- 
jesty and all his Political and Military Officials" to give 
any necessary aid to the traveller. The passport is dated 
"London, 16 September 1820, and signed by the ambassa- 
dor, "C. G. de Ludolf." 

In the bleak and rather chilly light of dawn on Sunday, 
September seventeenth, Keats and Taylor drove to the 
London Docks and went on board the "Maria Crowther." 
Here they found, or were shortly joined by, Severn and his 
brother Tom, Woodhouse, Haslam, and, according to 
Severn, other friends as well, but who they were can only 
be conjectured. Hunt says that he was there, but as he 
also states that Fanny Brawne and her mother were pre- 
sent, he may be romancing throughout, for that the Brawnes 
were not at the Docks, we have emphatic proof in an un- 
published letter from Reynolds, an extract from which will 
be given in the next chapter. Reynolds himself was on his 
vacation in Devonshire, and Brown where was Brown ? 
Keats must have wondered about this very often and very 
miserably that morning while he forced himself to appear 
cheerful and determined. The passengers were to be, be- 
sides Keats and Severn, two ladies, but only one of them 
put in an appearance at the London Docks; the other, 
they were told, would join the vessel at Gravesend. 

The tide turned at a quarter before eleven, and by that 
time all the well-wishers had gone ashore except Haslam 
and Woodhouse, who went to Gravesend with the voy- 
agers. Taylor may have gone too, but of his doing so we 
have no record. 



464 JOHN KEATS 

At Gravesend, before bidding him good-bye, Woodhouse 
cut off a lock of Keats's hair. This lock is still extant, 1 
with an inscription in Woodhouse's handwriting: 

"A Lock of the hair of John Keats which I cut off at 
Gravesend on Sunday the 2 Sept br 1820 on board the 
Maria Crowther just prior to leaving him. 

He was to sail for Naples for the benefit of his health on 
the following day 

R D WOODHOUSE." 

The envelope is dated "18 Sept. 1820." 

On the way to Gravesend, Severn announced that his 
passport had not come, whereupon Haslam, serviceable 
and reliable as always, undertook to see that it should be 
there before the vessel sailed the next day. Late in the 
afternoon both Woodhouse and Haslam had said their 
farewells and departed, and the travellers, although still 
moored in an English river, were to all intents and purposes 
really off. By tea-time, they were alone with Mrs. Pidgeon, 
the lady passenger, and Keats's old life was become a 
thing of memories and dreams. 



Morgan Collection. * Date left blank in original. 



CHAPTER XIII 
ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 

DURING the first days of the voyage, Severn kept a jour- 
nal which he sent to Haslam, and even after the regular 
journal was discontinued, he wrote voluminous letters to 
Haslam, to Brown, to Taylor. In later years, Severn com- 
piled more than one set of reminiscences of his voyage and 
stay in Italy with Keats, but his memory was not always 
dependable as to details. It is therefore wise to rely upon 
the contemporary account whenever possible, and use the 
later ones merely to fill in small facts. 

Under the date of "Sunday, 17 Sept. 1820" Severn tells 
Haslam exactly what 'happened from the moment that 
devoted friend left the ship. A curious tone of lightness 
and banality pervades these first communications of 
Severn's. We shall do well to note it, it is a touchstone to 
his character, which was more amiable than firm, more 
kindly than wise; we must also remember that Severn was 
fully persuaded that Keats would recover, he seems to have 
been allowed to go off with the invalid without ever having 
been fully posted as to the extreme seriousness of his con- 
dition. He knew that Keats believed himself dying, but 
that he discounted. It is very evident that he took things 
always at their face value; if Keats were cheerful in ap- 
pearance, Severn believed him so in reality. Admiration 
for Keats, Severn had to an unbounded degree, but few, if 
any, of Keats's friends can have understood him less. 
Severn's account of that Sunday evening is as follows: 

1 "We were soon reconciled to everything about from the 
Captain down to his Cat is it not most delightful that 

1 Severn's journal letter is taken from a transcript of the original letter 
in the Crewe Collection, published by Sir Sidney Colvin in the Times Liter- 
ary Supplement, April 16, 1914, and from a contemporary copy found 
among Taylor's papers. Author's Collection. 



466 JOHN KEATS 

the less we have the less we want this little cabin with 6 
beds and at first sight every inconvenience in one hour was 
more endeared to us and to our every purpose than 
the most stately Palace Keats seem'd happy seem'd 
to have got at the thing he wanted he cracked his jokes at 
tea and was quite the "special fellow" of olden times 
the kind Mrs. Pidgeon our Lady passenger did the honors 
of the tea table with the most unaf [f]ected good nature 
and we repaid her most gallantly by falling into a sound 
sleep and serenading her with a snoring duett for I 
have the vanity to think that Keats and myself would con- 
tinue our harmony even in sleep. I awoke several times 
with the oddest notions the first time in a Shoemaker's 
shop the next down in a wine cellar pretty well half seas 
over but we came to the last snore of our duett 
rubbed our eyes and said 'we'll go to bed' we slept 
most soundly Mrs. P. has a side scene to retire to." 

At midnight, long after Keats and Severn, exhausted by 
their early start, had gone to bed, a small Dundee smack, 
inward bound, came to anchor close to the "Maria Crow- 
ther." On board of her was Brown. Keats's letter had 
finally reached him, and he had hurried to the nearest port 
to where he was, Dundee, and taken passage on the first 
boat he could find sailing for London, a little coasting 
smack, in which he came as fast as the rather clumsy craft 
would allow. At daybreak the next morning, the smack 
weighed her anchor and proceeded to London on the in- 
flowing tide; and by the time Keats and Severn came on 
deck, she had been gone for some hours. I do not know 
whether to consider this an unfortunate circumstance or 
not. Partings were terrible to Keats, and Brown had no 
intention of going with him to Italy, a fact which Keats 
would have heard on the instant, and which could not 
have sounded otherwise than cruel and unfeeling. 

This Monday, September eighteenth, is carefully re- 
corded by Severn: 

" 1 arose and looked at Keats he felt faint in his voice 



but in other respects well our fair passenger came about 
8, quite well. We took breakfast and I can assure you en- 
joy'd it our Captain is a good fellow if he makes us 
happy his object is gained Keats took his breakfast 
well. I had proposed to go shore to Gravesend he 
thought this a good opportunity to have some things from 
the Chymists which I got him with half a hundred 
apples and 2 dozen biscuits etc., etc. and the Captain 
was trying to buy a goat for him but was not successful 
we all returned in a real full boat to dinner. Keats 
was full of his waggery looked well ate well and 
was well at six came down my passport we were not 
surprised for we made sure of it since our oak friend Has- 
lam had the getting of it. The other lady passenger ar- 
rived soon after a Miss Cotterell very lady like 
but a sad martyr to her illness which is to a jot the same 
as Keats . . . the passport coming had unloosed all my 
prattle and in a short time Keats backing me with his 
golden jokes in support of my tinsel we made Miss 
Cotterell to laugh and be herself my wit would have 
dropt in a minute but for Keats plying me but I was 
done up for all that leaving him sole master but I 
struck up again in my own language or Keats would have 
borne the Lady off in triumph. I began drawing my pic- 
ture for my dear sister Maria . . . after this I drew a Moon- 
light scene from the Sea which took until 12 (middle 
watch) ' the house had gone to rest ' Keats was in sound 
sleep." 

Keats was by no means in the buoyant spirits he as- 
sumed; among the medicines which Severn was commis- 
sioned to get at the chemist's was a small bottle of lauda- 
num, which Keats wanted for a very special reason, a 
reason not guessed by Severn at the time. Keats had de- 
termined that when his illness proved to be quite incur- 
able, he would spare himself the horrible sufferings of a 
lingering death by quietly taking an overdose of laudanum. 
All the time that he was cracking jokes and making puns 
to fool Severn and amuse Mrs. Pidgeon, he was planning 



468 JOHN KEATS 

and preparing for the worst. Why he waited till Graves- 
end to get the laudanum was probably because at the 
Brawnes' and at Taylor's a request for it would have 
aroused suspicion, while Severn was so blind and uncom- 
prehending that Keats knew he could be trusted to see no 
farther into anything than its surface. It is only the sur- 
face which we get from Severn in his journal. How little 
intimate he and Keats really were, how unaccustomed 
Keats was to confiding in him, his complete ignorance of 
Keats's affairs plainly shows. He knew nothing of Keats's 
engagement, did not, indeed, even suspect that he was in 
love with Miss Brawne. All Keats's more intimate circle 
knew this, but Severn was outside that circle, a fact which 
Severn's later utterances have quite obscured. Severn 
had, at this time, no idea of George's supposed defection, 
and he was far too trite a person to realize the desolation 
which Keats felt at having heard nothing from Brown. 
We must not forget these things as we read Severn's en- 
tries of these early days, they play like a dismal organ 
point beneath the events which he relates. 

The "Maria Crowther" seems to have sailed in the 
small hours of Tuesday morning. Here is Severn on that 
day: 

"i9th Sept., Tuesday, off Dover Castle, &c. 

I arose at day break to see the glorious eastern gate 
Keats slept till 7 Miss C. was rather ill this morning I 
prevailed on her to walk the deck with me at half past 6 
she recovered much Keats was still better this morning 
and Mrs. Pidgeon looked and was the picture of health 
but poor me! I began to feel a waltzing on my stomach at 
breakfast when I wrote the note to you I was going it most 
soundly Miss Cotterell followed me then Keats who 
did it in the most gentlemanly manner and then the 
saucy Mrs. Pidgeon who had been laughing at us four 
faces bequeathing to the mighty deep their breakfasts 
here I must change to a minor key Miss C. fainted we 
soon recovered her I was very ill nothing but lying 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 469 

down would do for me. Keats ascended his bed from 
which he dictated surgically like Esculapius of old in 
basso-relievo through him Miss C. was recovered we 
had a cup of tea each and no more went to bed and slept 
until it was time to go to bed we could not get up again 

and slept in our clothes all night Keats the King 
not even looking pale." 

The next day, Wednesday the twentieth, brought a 
plentiful supply of discomforts. Severn's journal, dated 
"Wednesday off Brighton," gives a vivid picture of them: 

" Beautiful morning we all breakfasted on deck and 
recovered as we were could enjoy it about 10 Keats said 
a storm was hatching he was right the rain came on 
and we retired to our cabin it abated and once more we 
came on deck at 2 storm came on furiously we re- 
tired to our beds. The rolling of the ship was death to us 

towards 4 it increased and our situation was alarming 

the trunks rolled across the cabin the water poured 
in from the skylight and we were tumbled from one side to 
the other of our beds my curiosity was raised to see the 
storm and my anxiety to see Keats for I could only 
speak to him when in bed I got up and fell down on the 
floor from my weakness and the rolling of the ship. Keats 
was very calm the ladies were much frightened and 
would scarce speak when I got up to the deck I was 
astounded the waves were in mountains and washed the 
ship the watery horizon was like a mountainous coun- 
try but the ship's motion was beautifully to the sea 
falling from one wave to the other in a very lovely manner 

the sea each time crossing the deck and one side of the 
ship being level with the water this when I understood 
gave me perfect ease I communicated below and it did 
the same but when the dusk came the sea began to rush 
in from the side of our cabin from an opening in the planks 

this made us rather long faced for it came by pail- 
fulls again I got out and said to Keats 'here's pretty 
music for you ' with the greatest calmness he answered 
me only by * Water parted from the sea. 1 ... I staggered 
up again and the storm was awful the Captain and 



470 JOHN KEATS 

Mate soon came down for our things were squashing 
about in the dark they struck a light and I succeeded 
in getting my desk of[f] the ground with clothes and 
books, &c. The Captain finding it could not be stopped 
tacked about from our voyage and the sea ceased to 
dash against the cabin for we were sailing against wind and 
tide but the horrible agitation continued in the ship 
lengthways here were the pumps working the sails 
squalling the confused voices of the sailors the things 
rattling about in every direction and us poor devils pinn'd 
up in our beds like ghosts by daylight except Keats he 
was himself all the time the ladies suffered the most 
but I was out of bed a dozen times to wait on them and 
tell them there was no danger my sickness made me get 
into bed very soon each time but Keats this morning 
brags of my sailorship he says could I have kept on my 
legs in the water cabin I should have been a standing 
miracle." 

This journal to Haslam was begun and concluded on 
Thursday, the twenty-first of September (wrongly dated 
the twentieth by Severn), so that his entry of that day 
goes no farther than the morning: 

" I caught a sight of the moon about 3 o'clock this morn- 
ing and ran down to tell the glad tidings but the 
surly rolling of the sea was worse than the storm the 
ship trembled to it and the sea was scarcely calmed by 
daylight so that we were kept from 2 o'clock yesterday 
until 6 this morning without anything well it has done 
us good, we are like a Quartett of fighting cocks this morn- 
ing. The morning is serene we are now back again some 20 
miles waiting for a wind but full of spirits Keats 
is without even complaining and Miss Cottrell has a colour 
in her face the sea has done his worst upon us. I am 
better than I have been for years. Farewell my dear fel- 
low." 

The storm had driven the "Maria Crowther" so far 
back on her course that she was now off Dungeness, and, 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 47 i 

what made matters worse, the wild weather was succeeded 
by a dead calm. We have no farther knowledge of Thurs- 
day, but a stray leaf from Severn's own journal l tells us 
briefly of Friday and Saturday: 

"Sept 22nd A Flat day waiting for wind in the Dun- 
Friday dee Ness Roads went on shore with the 
Captain and found it a wide expanse of 
Gravel 2 houses in about 6 miles and a 
solitary yard of Furze Keats appetite in- 
creasing. 

Sept 23 Still waiting for a wind flat, very flat 

Saturday Keats beat me hollow at the trencher." 

This slim account can be amplified somewhat from one 
of Severn's later reminiscences: 2 

"At Dungeness we scrambled over the gravel; and on 
the opposite side I was astonished and delighted with the 
enormous waves, at least ten feet high, rushing in upon the 
shore. The sight fixed me in wonder and abstraction, until 
a miserable excize man appeared and demanded what I 
was doing. My bewildered explanation only confirmed his 
suspicion that I was looking out for contraband which 
let down all the high romance which the waves had in- 
spired." 

While the "Maria Crowther" was enduring storm and 
calm in the English Channel, Keats's friends in England 
were thinking of him as well started on his voyage. 
Brown, who was greatly chagrined at arriving in London 
too late to see him, and whose house was probably let 
until October, had betaken himself to old Mr. Dilke's at 
Chichester. Taylor, having written an account of Keats's 
departure to Reynolds, had gone on a visit to his brother 
in Leicester. Reynolds's answer, 3 which seems to have 
reached Taylor before he left, is of considerable moment 

1 Bulletin of Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. Rome. Vol. I. 

2 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 

3 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 



472 JOHN KEATS 

to us from the light it throws on various things. It is 
dated: "Exmouth 21 Sept 1820." I quote it in part 
only, the rest of the letter has no concern with Keats: 

" I do not know when I have been more gratified at the 
receipt of a letter than now, for you give me the best of 
news, full to the brim, that Keats is positively off for a 
better Lung-land. There is no half-measure information 
of expected departure or promised amendment, but 
smack you come down upon me with the Ultimatum Sir 
John. Your Alphabet commences at Z. Your Letter is in 
finals only. . . 

Seriously, my dear Taylor, I am very, very, much 
pleased at what you tell me, and the more so, since 
Keats has departed so comfortably, so cheerfully, so sensi- 
bly. I cannot now but hold a hope of his refreshed health, 
which I confess his residence in England greatly discour- 
aged, particularly as he was haunted by one or two heart- 
less and demented people whose opinions and conduct 
could not but silently influence the bearings of his thoughts 
& hopes. Absence from the poor idle Thing of Woman- 
Kind, to whom he has so unaccountably attached himself, 
will not be an ill thing; And who would not be banished 
from the vain and heartless Eternity of Mr. Leigh Hunt's 
indecent discoursings . . . Keats, then, by this, is at Sea 
fairly, with England and one or two sincere friends be- 
hind him, and with a warm clime before his face! If 
ever I wished well to man, I wish well to him! I should in- 
deed have liked to have seen him off with you, but Wood- 
house & yourself are a Host of friends in yourselves, and he 
is not unmindful of you, I warrant me, at this moment! 

You scarcely tell me enough, I fancy, of the Brawnes, or 
whether Keats said anything of them before he left. They 
have been really attentive to him, which we should not 
forget. Severn will much like the voyage, & greatly pleas- 
ure Keats, if I mistake not: Though he is scarcely the reso- 
lute, intelligent or cheerful companion which a long voyage 
and a sickly frame so anxiously call for. I wish you your- 
self could have cast Fleet Street & Dull Care behind you, 
and have taken a trip v/ith our ailing friend : But we 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 473 

must not, as Sancho says, look for better bread than's 
made of corn!" 

Reynolds's remarks on Leigh Hunt give us a little peep 
into one of the many divisions into which Keats's old 
group was breaking up. Those on Fanny Brawne reveal 
his prejudice and jealousy, constantly fed, we may be- 
lieve, by his sisters. What he has to say of Severn, on the 
other hand, being perfectly dispassionate opinion, may be 
relied upon as fact. Severn was not the man any one 
would have selected to go with Keats. He was "Hobson's 
choice," and we shall find that such was the general ver- 
dict among Keats's friends. 

Light flawy breezes seem to have succeeded the flat 
calm, and by the time Portsmouth was reached, on Thurs- 
day, September twenty-eighth, what wind there was blew 
from the wrong quarter and Captain Walsh put into Ports- 
mouth Harbour to wait for a change. The ten days beat- 
ing about the channel with no material headway had so 
disgusted Keats that it would have taken very little to in- 
duce him to give up the voyage altogether and return to 
London. But Keats was a sensible man and possessed of 
an indomitable will; he had determined to try what Italy 
could do for him and would not weaken. 

Bedhampton, where the Snooks lived, was only seven 
miles from Portsmouth, and it occurred to Keats that if the 
"Maria Crowther" were detained in harbour over night, 
it would be very pleasant to go ashore and make them a 
visit. Miss Cotterell, nice girl though she was, depressed 
him by her continual fainting fits, while Mrs. Pidgeon did 
not improve upon acquaintance, quite the contrary, and 
both young men had begun to dislike her heartily. The 
Captain, on being consulted, declared that there was no 
likelihood of the brig's being able to sail before the next 
day at the earliest. So Keats and Severn set off for Bed- 
hampton, where they found an astonished, but exceedingly 



474 JOHN KEATS 

warm, welcome from the Snooks. On arrival, they were 
told the rather discouraging news that Brown was staying 
ten miles off at Chichester with Mrs. Snook's father. I call 
this news discouraging, for a proximity which cannot bring 
about a desired meeting is very hard to bear. Two ac- 
counts of this visit exist, one from Brown to Taylor, one 
from Mrs. Snook to Mrs. Dilke. In these days of motors 
and telephones, Brown could have been apprised of 
Keats's arrival in Bedhampton at once, and could have 
run over from Chichester in less than half an hour to see 
him, and Keats need not have feared to venture the extra 
distance from the ship. In 1820, no such possibilities ex- 
isted. Brown did not know of Keats's being at the Snooks' 
until a week after it had happened; once again, therefore, 
the two friends were within an ace of meeting and did not. 
Brown's letter, 1 dated "Chichester. 5 th Sept r [a slip of 
the pen, it should be Oct r ] 1820" reads: 

"DEAR TAYLOR, 

If neither Keats nor Severn has written from Ports- 
mouth, and I believe neither of them has, I have some 
news gratifying to you & to our friends in London. They 
landed at Portsmouth after having been tossed about in 
the Channel for ten days. This was on Thursday 28 th . 
Having a day to spare, they went to Bedhampton, a dis- 
tance of 7 miles, to visit M r & M rs Snook, who were here 
yesterday afternoon & gave me the following particulars. 
His health was better than they expected from the ac- 
counts they had previously heard, and Severn talked 
cheeringly of him. On the following morning (Friday) his 
spirits were excellent. He abuses the Captain, tho' he 
acknowledges him to be civil & accommodating. He likes 
one of the Ladies, and has an aversion for the other, whom 
he rediculed with all the bustling wit of a man in saucy 
health. He was so sick of the voyage, that a word might 
have sent him back to London. Unknown to Severn he 
put on a blister (on his chest) soon after he went on board, 

i Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 




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ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 475 

convinced it would relieve him, and it appears he believes 
it has relieved him. Still however he is full of his old ap- 
prehensions. He knew I was here (within ten miles) but 
did not dare to come, lest the wind should change; how 
strangely unlucky that we should twice have been so near a 
meeting & yet not met! Had he known where I was at an 
earlier hour on Thursday, I think he would have come. 
No! I am mistaken, he could not. I tell you every thing 
trifles & all that you may form your opinion of him. 
Neither the boisterous weather, nor his antipathies, nor 
his anger, will do him harm; on the contrary they will 
be of service, they are good physic to his mind, & will 
help to purge away his apprehensions. He wrote to me in 
Scotland he was confident the indulgence of his friends in- 
jured him, & a letter from me to the same effect crossed on 
the road. He sailed from Portsmouth on Friday afternoon, 
with a fair wind, which has continued ever since. Both he 
and Severn said they should not write; I suppose they re- 
lied on my doing so. I send this account to none but your- 
self, & leave you to disseminate it as you please. Comp* 
to Mr. Hessey. I shall direct this to both of you, lest you 
should be out of Town, & have too much postage to pay 
for my scrawl. 

Your's most truly, 

CHA S BROWN." 

Our opinion of Brown's perspicacity receives a sad blow 
from this letter. His remarks about Keats being injured 
by the indulgence of his friends prove him to have com- 
pletely misunderstood Keats's dangerous condition. There 
are none so blind as those who will not see. To talk of a 
man who has had a number of haemorrhages as likely to be 
injured by indulgence is more than folly, it is cruelty. 
Brown needed to salve his conscience, he did not wish, nor 
intend, to go to Italy, but he wanted to think himself per- 
fectly justified in not going. Brown was tired of the post of 
nurse and banker, which was perhaps not unnatural; but 
once again, in the matter of friendship, we find Keats 
trusting and deceived. Severn's claim to the gratitude of 



476 JOHN KEATS 

posterity is just that, although not at all the man for the 
job, he stuck to Keats through thick and thin till the end. 
The second account of the Bedhampton visit is quoted 
in a letter of October sixth from Fanny Brawne to Fanny 
Keats: 

11 1 received a letter from Mrs. Dilke with part of a letter 
from a relation of hers 1 copied out ... as I shall copy it 
. . . ' I have had some very unexpected visitors Mr. Keats 
and Mr. Severn. They had been beating about with a con- 
trary wind ever since they left London, and at last put 
into Portsmouth. I think Mr. Keats much better than I 
expected and Mr. Severn said he was sure that notwith- 
standing the hardships they had undergone, he was much 
better than when he left London/ I cannot say this news 
pleased me much, I was in hopes that by this time he was 
half way to Naples. He left Portsmouth on the 29th. of 
September, the wind being favorable, the next day it 
again changed contrary to their wishes, but they did not 
return so it is supposed the captain put to sea." 

The captain had put to sea, but much good it had done 
him. It was tack, tack, tack, and almost no real headway, 
all that night and Saturday, on which day one of the port 
tacks brought them off Yarmouth, Isle of Wight. Here 
the wind gave out, and while the vessel lay becalmed, 
Keats wrote a letter to Brown, which must be given in 
full, to balance the totally misleading accounts of his 
cheerfulness sent back to London by Severn, Brown, and 
Mrs. Snook. Keats mistook the day of the month, a usual 
occurrence with him; it should not confuse us, the letter 
was written on September thirtieth. 

2 "Saturday, Sept r . 28 

Maria Crowther 
Off Yarmouth, isle of wight 
MY DEAR BROWN, 

The time has not yet come for a pleasant Letter from 
me. I have delayed writing to you from time to time be- 

1 Mrs. Snook. 2 Corrected from original letter. Author's Collection. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 477 

cause I felt how impossible it was to enliven you with one 
heartening hope of my recovery; this morning in bed the 
matter struck me in a different manner; I thought I would 
write ' while I was in some liking ' or I might become too 
ill to write at all and then if the desire to have written 
should become strong it would be a great affliction to me. 
I have many more letters to write and I bless my stars that 
I have begun, for time seems to press, this may be my 
best opportunity. We are in a calm and I am easy enough 
this morning. If my spirits seem too low you may in some 
degree impute it to our having been at sea a fortnight 
without making any way. I was very disappointed at not 
meeting you at bedhampton, and am very provoked at the 
thought of you being at Chichester to day. I should have 
delighted in setting off for London for the sensation 
merely for what should I do there? I could not leave 
my lungs or stomach or other worse things behind me. I 
wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much 
there is one I must mention and have done with it. Even 
if my body would recover of itself, this would prevent it. 
The very thing which I want to live most for will be a 
great occasion of my death. I cannot help it. Who can 
help it? Were I in health it would make me ill, and how 
can I bear it in my state? I dare say you will be able to 
guess on what subject I am harping you know what was 
my greatest pain during the first part of my illness at your 
house. I wish for death every day and night to deliver me 
from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death 
would destroy even those pains which are better than 
nothing. Land and sea, weakness and decline are great 
separators, but death is the great divorcer for ever. When 
the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I 
may say the bitterness of death is passed. I often wish for 
you that you might flatter me with the best. I think with- 
out my mentioning it for my sake you would be a friend 
to Miss Brawne when I am dead. You think she has many 

faults but, for my sake, think she has not one 

If there is anything you can do for her by word or deed I 
know you will do it. I am in a state at present in which 
woman merely as woman can have no more power over me 



478 JOHN KEATS 

than stocks and stones, and yet the difference of my sensa- 
tions with respect to Miss Brawne and my Sister is amaz- 
ing. The one seems to absorb the other to a degree in- 
credible. I seldom think of my Brother and Sister in amer- 
ica. The thought of leaving Miss Brawne is beyond every- 
thing horrible the sense of darkness coming over me 
I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing. Some of the 
phrases she was in the habit of using during my last nurs- 
ing at wentworth place ring in my ears. Is there another 
Life? Shall I awake and find all this a dream? There must 
be we cannot be created for this sort of suffering. The re- 
ceiving this letter is to be one of yours. I will say nothing 
about our friendship or rather yours to me more than that 
as you deserve to escape you will never be so unhappy as I 
am. I should think of you in my last moments. I shall 
endeavour to write to Miss Brawne if possible to day. A 
sudden stop to my life in the middle of one of these letters 
would be no bad thing, for it keeps one in a sort of fever 
awhile. Though fatigued with a letter longer than any I 
have written for a long while it would be better to go on 
for ever than awake to a sense of contrary winds. We ex- 
pect to put into Portland roads to night. The cap tn the 
Crew and the Passengers are all illtemper'd and weary. I 
shall write to dilke. I feel as if I was closing my last letter 
to you. 

My dear Brown, 

Your affectionate friend, 

JOHN KEATS." 

There is no mention here of jealousy. Fanny Brawne 
seems to have put an end to that forever while Keats was 
at Wentworth Place. But there is a mention of a pro- 
jected letter to Miss Brawne. It was never written; if it 
had been, it would have been in her bundle of Keats's let- 
ters, and it was not. Keats wrote no letter at all to Fanny 
Brawne during these last months of his life. Why he did 
not do so, is one of the most baffling queries his psychology 
offers to a biographer. I can only explain it by the fact 
that already he knew her dead to him. Passionately as he 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 479 

longed to believe in a life after death, he could not do so. 
His only hope of tranquillity lay in keeping himself arti- 
ficially calm. To write to her was to open the door to life 
once more, to ache for her with an intensity which he 
could not bear. To most people, communication is a com- 
fort; life, still clung to, affords a measure of relief. Not so 
to Keats. Believing absolutely in his approaching death, 
he wished to die, to have it all over and done with as soon 
as possible. He had made the supreme sacrifice of leaving 
Fanny Brawne behind; the minor sacrifice of writing to her 
for her comfort he could not make. 

Portland Roads proved an impossible objective for that 
night, and we do not know how much time elapsed before 
another calm near Lulworth Cove in Dorsetshire enabled 
the two young men to set foot on land once more. Severn 
waxes eloquent over this occasion in his later reminis- 
cences. He says: 

l " For a moment he became like his former self. He was 
in a part that he already knew, and showed me the splen- 
did caverns and grottos with a poet's pride, as though they 
had been his by birthright." 

Perhaps they were. I have already dealt with this sub- 
ject in an earlier part of this book, 2 and, to avoid dupli- 
cation, will not do so here. Severn's "splendid caverns 
and grottos" is a little strong, but sentimental over- 
statement was one of Severn's irritating traits. 

On their return to the ship, Keats wrote the Bright Star 
sonnet in a copy of Shakespeare's Poems he had brought 
with him, and gave the book, with the sonnet in it, to 
Severn. It is a little uncertain whether or not Severn 
knew the sonnet to be an old one, at the time. In after 
years, he certainly believed it to have been composed then 
and there. In writing it down, Keats changed it slightly 
from the original version, and in every case the change 

1 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 2 See Vol. I, p. 6. 



480 JOHN KEATS 

is an improvement. "Devout" is altered to "patient," 
the "morning waters" become "moving waters," and the 
line: 

"Cheek-pillowed on my Love's white ripening breast/ 
gives place to the simpler 

" Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast." 

In the tenth line, the rather unsatisfactory "touch," dis- 
appears in favour of the much better "feel." The final 
couplet, which was originally: 

"To hear, to feel her tender-taken breath, 
Half passionless, and so swoon on to death." 

stands in the new version: 

"Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, 
And so live ever or else swoon to death." 

By this change, the bitterness of the first ending entirely 
disappears; in its stead, there is only a forlorn, majestic 
peace. 

I doubt very much whether these corrections were made 
on board the "Maria Crowther." Such things take time, 
and Severn would surely have noticed it if Keats had not 
written the sonnet straight off. Also, from what we know 
of Keats's health and state of mind, it does not seem 
possible for him to have worked over the sonnet then. I 
am inclined, therefore, to attribute these changes to an 
earlier revision of which we have no knowledge. He cop- 
ied the sonnet on a blank page facing A Lover s Complaint, 
which may, or may not, have been intentional. 

Exactly when the "Maria Crowther" actually left 
Portland Roads with a fair wind, is not known, but it 
must have been very soon after the landing at Lulworth 
Cove. This time everything favoured them. The wind 
held, and England was left behind at last. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 481 

The voyage fairly embarked upon was, for the most 
part, distressing enough. Mrs. Pidgeon proved to be a 
most unpleasant and unfeeling woman. When poor Miss 
Cotterell fainted, she would do nothing to help her, but 
left her entirely to Severn, working under Keats's direc- 
tion. Miss Cotterell's state was extremely prejudicial to 
Keats's spirits, who had a duplicate of himself constantly 
before his eyes. Then, too, the invalids were forever com- 
paring symptoms, after the manner of their kind. The 
poor food and the wretched accommodations (five sleep- 
ing in one cabin), to say nothing of the disheartening sur- 
roundings, brought on a recurrence of blood-spitting and 
Keats grew visibly worse from day to day. Alike as Keats 
and Miss Cotterell were in their general conditions, in one 
particular they were utterly dissimilar. The result of this 
dissimilarity I will give in Severn's words. The passage 
is from a letter to Haslam, written after the arrival in 
Naples: 

1 "The lady passenger though in the same state as Keats 
yet differing in constitution required almost everything 
the opposite to him for instance if the cabin windows 
were not open she would faint and remain entirely insensi- 
ble 5 or 6 hours together if the windows were open poor 
Keats would be taken with a cough (a violent one 
caught from this cause) and sometimes spitting of blood." 

The outward events of the voyage were on the whole 
tranquil. There were squalls, of course, and a storm, but 
no weather so bad as that they had encountered in the 
channel. After one of these squalls in the Bay of Biscay, 
Keats began reading the shipwreck scene from Byron's 
Don Juan, but soon threw it petulantly aside, exclaiming 
that it was abominable that a man like Byron should find 
his chief pleasure in laughing and gloating over such scenes 
of misery. Byron's poetry, he declared, was based upon a 

1 The Times Literary Supplement, April 16, 1914. Also copy by Wood- 
house. Author's Collection. 



482 JOHN KEATS 

paltry originality, that of being new by making solemn 
things gay and gay things solemn. I do not put quotation 
marks here because these are not Keats's words, they are 
Severn's recollection of what he said, written down twenty- 
five years later. Sir Sidney Colvin has pointed out that 
these may have been Keats's feelings, but that Severn has 
given us "nothing of his way of expressing them," with 
which opinion I entirely concur. 

In a calm off Cape St. Vincent, Severn tells us, Keats 
was enchanted with the play of colours over the smooth 
sea; and the appearance of a whale come up to spout was 
a strange and absorbing sight. Shortly after this, the pas- 
sengers had an unpleasant scare. The "Maria Crowther" 
was once more becalmed, and in this uncomfortable plight 
found herself close to a Portuguese man-of-war. Captain 
Walsh was below, shaving, and apparently the mate did 
not consider it necessary to pay any attention to the sig- 
nals made by the Portuguese vessel. Suddenly a shot 
passed over the "Maria Crowther's" stern. The passen- 
gers were in a panic, Captain Walsh rushed up on deck, 
and a parley began. Some one shouted from the deck of 
the Portuguese ship in English, demanding to know if 
the brig had sighted any privateers. Captain Walsh re- 
plied in the negative, and the "Maria Crowther" was al- 
lowed to drift on. Portugal was at this time engaged in a 
busy little revolution, and the Portuguese ship was out to 
intercept any vessel going to the relief of the revolution- 
ists. In the afternoon, the "Maria Crowther" ran across 
an English sloop-of-war and informed her officers of the 
morning adventure, whereupon the sloop immediately 
went about and started in pursuit of the Portuguese ship. 
I make no apology for including this little vignette of sea 
life; it is so pleasantly indicative of an age the very para- 
phernalia of which has totally disappeared. 

Gibraltar was passed before dawn one morning, a huge, 
dim shape in the semi-darkness, but at sunrise the coast of 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 483 

Africa became visible, red and gleaming in the bright, 
level rays. Keats was entranced with the view, says 
Severn, and lay gazing at it while Severn sketched. On days 
when he felt a little better, Keats's mind would revert to 
poetry, and he talked to Severn about a poem which, if 
well enough, he meant some day to write on the story of 
Sabrina. 

So the days passed, Keats on the whole not so well as 
when he left England, and on Saturday, October twenty- 
first, the "Maria Crowther" sailed into the Bay of Naples 
and was at once put in quarantine. This was a terrible 
thing for the invalids. The weather was very bad, con- 
stant rain prevented the opening of the cabin windows or 
staying on deck. Severn's description, sent to Haslam, is 
graphic: 

"We are just released from the loathsome misery of 
quarantine foul weather and foul air for the whole 10 
days kept us to the small cabin surrounded by about 
2,000 ships in a wretched hole not sufficient for half the 
number, yet Keats is still living may I not have hopes 
of him? He has passed what I must have thought would 
kill myself." 

The unpleasantness of confinement in close quarters was 
augmented by the arrival, and immediate detention, of a 
lieutenant and six men from an English naval vessel at 
anchor in the harbour, who, having rowed over to make 
inquiries as to where the "Maria Crowther" hailed from 
and what her business, were so unwise as to board her, and 
were not permitted by the quarantine officer to leave. Mr. 
Cotterell, Miss Cotterell's brother, also joined the prison- 
ers, which, although pleasant in many ways, increased the 
cramped condition. Charles Cotterell, of the firm of 
Cotterell and Company, bankers, 10 Largo della Vittoria, 
Naples, was a thoroughly nice fellow, and at the moment 
an extremely grateful one. His sister had told him of the 
value of Keats's medical advice to her during the voyage, 



484 JOHN KEATS 

and of Severn's attentions, and he could not do enough for 
both young men. He made their detention as pleasant as 
he could by keeping the "Maria Crowther" well supplied 
with fruit and flowers. Severn says that Keats "was never 
tired of admiring, (not to speak of eating!) the beautiful 
clusters of grapes and other fruits, and was scarce less en- 
thusiastic over the autumnal flowers, though I remember 
his saying once that he would gladly give them all for a 
wayside dog-rose bush covered with pink blooms." l 

The presence of Mr. Cotterell and Lieutenant Sullivan 
lent a false air of gaiety to the melancholy little brig. Says 
Severn, recollecting years afterwards: "All kinds of chaflF 
went on, and Keats was not behind either Mr. Cotterell or 
Lieutenant Sullivan in witty puns and remarks." The 
terrible pathos of this is almost more than one can bear. 

Severn seems to have really enjoyed these ten days. On 
starting from London, he had been troubled with his liver, 
and had looked so sallow that someone at Gravesend had 
asked whether he or Keats were the dying man. The 
voyage had done him good, and he saw everything with 
rose-coloured spectacles, a tint which increased with time, 
as the difference between his letter to Haslam and his later 
recollection shows. Keats, on the other hand, was miser- 
able in mind and body. On the third day of their detention, 
Tuesday, October twenty-fourth, he nerved himself to 
write a letter to Mrs. Brawne. It is a brave and fine letter, 
seeking always to appear cheerful, minimizing his suffer- 
ings, saying as little to alarm as he can. But Mrs. Brawne 
was not Severn, and there was ample for her to read be- 
tween the lines. The original of the letter 2 is badly dis- 
coloured, presumably from having been fumigated by the 
health officers: 



1 Reminiscences, quoted in Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 
1 Dilke Collection. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 485 

"Oct. 24, Naples Harbour. 
MY DEAR MRS. BRAWNE, 

A few words will tell you what sort of a Passage we had, 
and what situation we are in, and few they must be on ac- 
count of the Quarantine, our Letters being liable to be 
opened for the purpose of fumigation at the Health Office. 
We have to remain in the vessel ten days and are at present 
shut in a tier of ships. The sea air has been beneficial to 
me about to as great an extent as squally weather and bad 
accommodations and provisions has done harm. So I am 
about as I was. Give my Love to Fanny and tell her, if I 
were well there is enough in this Port of Naples to fill a 
quire of Paper but it looks like a dream every man 
who can row his boat and walk and talk seems a different 
being from myself. I do not feel in the world. It has been 
unfortunate for me that one of the Passengers is a young 
Lady in a Consumption her imprudence has vexed 
me very much the knowledge of her complaints l the 
flushings in her face, all her bad symptoms have preyed 
upon me they would have done so had I been in good 
health. Severn now is a very good fellow but his nerves 
are too strong to be hurt by other people's illnesses I 
remember poor Rice wore me in the same way in the Isle of 
Wight I shall feel a load off me when the Lady van- 
ishes out of my sight. It is impossible to describe exactly 
in what state of health I am at this moment I am suffer- 
ing from indigestion very much, which makes such stuff 
of this Letter. I would always wish you to think me a little 
worse than I really am; not being of a sanguine disposition 
I am likely to succeed. If I do not recover your regret will 
be softened if I do your pleasure will be doubled. I dare 
not fix my Mind upon Fanny, I have not dared to think of 
her. The only comfort I have had that way has been in 
thinking for hours together of having the knife she gave 
me put in a silver-case the hair in a Locket and the 
Pocket Book in a gold net. Show her this. I dare say no 
more. Yet you must not believe I am so ill as this Letter 
may look, for if ever there was a person born without the 
faculty of hoping I am he. Sev'ern is writing to Haslam, 

1 Undoubtedly Keats meant to write "complaint." 



486 JOHN KEATS 

and I have just asked him to request Haslam to send you 
his account of my health. O what an account I could give 
you of the Bay of Naples if I could once more feel myself 
a Citizen of this world I feel a spirit in my Brain would 
lay it forth pleasantly O what a misery it is to have an in- 
tellect in splints! My Love again to Fanny tell Tootts 1 
I wish I could pitch her a basket of grapes and tell Sam 
the fellows catch here with a line a little fish much like 
an anchovy, pull them up fast. Remember me to Mr. 
and Mrs. Dilke mention to Brown that I wrote him a 
letter at Portsmouth which I did not send and am in 
doubt if he ever will see it. 

My dear Mrs. Brawne 

Yours sincerely and affectionate 
JOHN KEATS 
Good bye Fanny! God bless you." 

On Tuesday, October thirty-first, the ten days were up, 
and the passengers were allowed to land. But the city 
which had looked so beautiful from the bay proved to be 
muddy, noisy, and squalid. To add to the discomfort, the 
day was chilly, with fog and rain. Presumably the first 
thing they did was to go and have their passports viseed. 
It is all here, on the back of Keats's passport, where the 
first vise in translation reads: 

"Registered with the Council of Public Security, Na- 
ples, 31, Oct. 1820. 
At the office of the 3 rd Department. 

J. NADIA." 

This formality over, the friends went at once to a hotel, 
the Villa da Londra, in the Strada di Santa Lucia, to which 
they were taken by Mr. Cotterell. Keats was wretchedly 
depressed, and his self-control was nearly gone. Even 
Severn was affected. In his letter, written the next day, 
Wednesday, to Haslam, from which I have already twice 
quoted, there is this paragraph: 

1 Probably Margaret Brawne, Mrs. Brawne's youngest child. 



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KEATS'S PASSPORT TO ITALY (SECOND PAGE) 

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ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 487 

" Now that we are on shore and feel the fresh air, I am 
horror struck at his sufferings on this voyage, all that 
could be fatal to him in air and diet with the want of 
medicine and conveniences he has weather'd it, if I may 
call hig poor shattered frame and broken heart weather- 
ing it. For myself I have stood it firmly until this morning 
when in a moment my spirits dropt at the sight of his suf- 
fering a plentiful shower of tears (which he did not see) 
has relieved me somewhat what he has passed still un- 
nerves me. But now we are breathing in a large room with 
Vesuvius in our view Keats has become calm and 
thinks favourably of this place for we are meeting with 
much kind treatment on every side more particularly 
from an English gentleman here (brother to Miss Cottrell 
one of our lady passengers) who has shown unusually 
humane treatment to Keats unasked these with very 
good accommodation at our Inn (Villa da Londra) have 
kept him up through dinner but on the other hand Dr. 
Milne is at Rome (whither Keats is proposing to go) the 
weather is now cold, wet and foggy, and we find ourselves 
on the wrong side for his hope for recovery, (for the pre- 
sent I will talk to him he is disposed to it. I will talk 
him to sleep for he has suffered much fatigue).' 1 

This was evidently written in the afternoon, after dinner. 
In the morning, Keats had once more written to Brown, 
and again I shall give the whole letter: 

"Naples, 

i November 
MY DEAR BROWN, 

Yesterday we were let out of Quarantine, during which 
my health suffered more from bad air and the stifled cabin 
than it had done the whole voyage. The fresh air revived 
me a little, and I hope I am well enough this morning to 
write to you a short calm letter; if that can be called 
one, in which I am afraid to speak of what I would fainest 
dwell upon. As I have gone thus far into it, I must go on a 
little; perhaps it may relieve the load of WRETCHED- 
NESS which presses upon me. The persuasion that I shall 



4 88 JOHN KEATS 

see her no more will kill me. I cannot q * My dear 

Brown, I should have had her when I was in health, and I 
should have remained well. I can bear to die I cannot 
bear to leave her. O, God! God! God! Everything I have 
in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a 
spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling cap scalds 
my head. My imagination is horribly vivid about her I 
see her I hear her. There is nothing in the world of suffi- 
cient interest to divert me from her a moment. This was 
the case when I was in England ; I cannot recollect, with- 
out shuddering, the time that I was a prisoner at Hunt's, 
and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day. 
Then there was a good hope of seeing her again Now ! 

that I could be buried near where she lives! I am afraid 
to write to her to receive a letter from her to see her 
handwriting would break my heart even to hear of her 
anyhow, to see her name written, would be more than I 
can bear. My dear Brown, what am I to do? Where can I 
look for consolation or ease? If I had any chance of recov- 
ery, this passion would kill me. Indeed through the whole 
of my illness, both at your house and at Kentish Town, 
this fever has never ceased wearing me out. When you 
write to me, which you will do immediately, write to 
Rome (poste restante) if she is well and happy, put a 
mark thus -f- ; if 

Remember me to all. I will endeavour to bear my miser- 
ies patiently. A person in my state of health should not 
have such miseries to bear. Write a short note to my sister, 
saying you have heard from me. Severn is very well. If I 
were in better health I would urge your coming to Rome. 

1 fear there is no one can give me any comfort. Is there 
any news of George? O, that something fortunate had ever 
happened to me or my brothers! then I might hope, 
but despair is forced upon me as a habit. My dear Brown, 
for my sake, be her advocate for ever. I cannot say a word 
about Naples; I do not feel at all concerned in the thou- 
sand novelties around me. I am afraid to write to her I 
should like her to know that I do not forget her. Oh, 

1 Brown made a note on this passage, he says: "He could not goon 
with this sentence nor even write the word 'quit* as I suppose." Quoted by 
Buxton Forman. Complete Edition. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 489 

Brown, I have coals of fire in my breast. It surprises me 
that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing 
so much misery. Was I born for this end? God bless her, 
and her mother, and my sister, and George, and his wife, 
and you, and all ! 

Your ever affectionate friend, 

JOHN KEATS. 

Thursday. I was a day too early for the Courier. He 
sets out now. I have been more calm to-day, though in a 
half dread of not continuing so. I said nothing of my 
health; I know nothing of it; you will hear Severn's ac- 
count, from [Haslam]. I must leave off. You bring my 
thoughts too near to Fanny. God bless you!" 

There is no comment to make on such a letter as this, 
and I make none, save to point out that, although Keats 
believed George to have done him an injury in taking his 
money to America, yet his love for his brother persisted 
in spite of this opinion. Keats's nature was essentially 
affectionate. 

Before this letter could reach England, Mrs. Brawne had 
received the one written to her from quarantine. Fanny 
Brawne speaks of it in a letter to Fanny Keats, written on 
November twenty-seventh, a reticent letter, in which she 
is evidently trying to look with might and main at any 
possible star-point in the gloom. It was a hard task. She 
says: 

"I was so extremely happy to hear of his arrival at 
Naples, that I overlooked the hardships of their wretched 
voyage and even the bad spirits he wrote in. The weather 
was so much against him, joined to his spirits, which prey 
on him and continually make him worse that it would have 
been too much to expect any great improvement in his 
health. He mentioned that Mr. Severn was writing to Mr. 
Haslam and that we should have the letter to read, as it 
would give a better account of him than he could write 
himself . . ." 



490 JOHN KEATS 

When Severn put Keats to bed that Wednesday night, 
intending to talk him to sleep, Keats's reserve was worn 
too thin to be longer maintained in its entirety. His tem- 
perament had always demanded the relief of expression, 
and when his brothers were no longer there to talk to, 
Brown gradually took their place. All the five weeks of the 
voyage, and during the ten days' quarantine, Keats had 
kept silence, but that night he was too physically weak and 
shattered to hold on any longer, and Severn heard some- 
thing of the grief which was eating his heart out. Not 
much, apparently, merely the bare fact that he was in love 
without the faintest hope of ever being well again. That 
there was a definite engagement, Keats does not seem to 
have revealed to Severn; indeed, it is doubtful if, on this 
occasion, he told Severn who it was with whom he was in 
love. But the confidence once made relieved him a 
little, and at last he slept. Severn, continuing his letter to 
Haslam on Thursday, tells a good deal of what took place 
without betraying any secret which Haslam might not 
know: 

"Nov. 2 

Keats went to bed much recovered I took every 
means to remove from him a heavy grief that may tend 
more than any thing to be fatal he told me much 
very much and I don't know whether it was more pain- 
ful for me or himself but it had the effect of much re- 
lieving him he went very calm to bed. 

Poor fellow! he is still sleeping at half past nine, if I can 
but ease his mind I will bring him back to England well 
but I fear it never can be done in this world the grand 
scenery here effects him a little but he is too infirm to 
enjoy it his gloom deadens his sight to everything 
and but for intervals of something like ease he must soon 
end it." 

On waking up, however, Keats both felt and looked 
better, and Severn closed his letter much cheered: 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 491 

"... this morning he is still very much better. We are in 
good spirits and I may say hopeful fellows at least I 
may say as much for Keats he made an Italian pun to- 
day the rain is coming down in torrents." 

It took very little to set Severn's spirits flying skywards, as 
Keats quite realized. He was easily deceived, so long as 
Keats had energy enough to deceive him. 

In due time, Keats's letter to Brown was delivered at 
Wentworth Place, and, shortly after, Haslam got his from 
Severn. Severn's letter, being in the nature of a bulletin, 
was passed round among Keats's friends, and the duty of 
communicating the contents of both letters to the Brawnes 
was deputed to Brown. How skilfully he managed to make 
it appear that the news in Severn's letter was merely 
duplicated in his, the following paragraph from a letter 
of Miss Brawne's shows. The violence of Keats's misery 
and longing after his final separation from her was, 
considerately or inconsiderately, kept from Fanny Brawne 
from first to last. It is always a question how wise it is to 
protect people for their own good. Brown meant well, and 
probably his behaviour was in some measure dictated by 
Mrs. Brawne, but this conspiracy to keep the young girl in 
ignorance of facts which she had every right to know does 
not commend itself to a later century. 

Under date of December fifth, she tells Fanny Keats: 

"Mr. Brown has received a letter dated November 2nd 
. . . when he wrote they were just arriving on shore their 
sufferings during the quarantine were beyond anything 
we can imagine . . . you may imagine how lowering to the 
spirits it must have been when Mr. Severn who I never 
imagined it was possible for anything to make unhappy, 
who I never saw for ten minutes serious, says he was so 
overcome that he was obliged to relieve himself by shed- 
ding tears . . . They had met with several friends who 
were extremely anxious to be kind to them, particularly 
the brother of a young lady passenger with them, who 



492 JOHN KEATS 

went out in dreadful health, and who, God knows, I have a 
thousand times wished at the bottom of the sea, as I know 
she made it worse." 

Here I must pause a moment and make room for part of 
a letter from Haslam to Severn, dated "Greenwich, 4 th 
Dec., 1820." After telling Severn that his letter from 
quarantine 1 was so poignant that he had shown it to no 
one, Haslam goes on to speak of the Naples letter. Haslam 
knew Severn well, very well, yet even he seems to have 
realized the defects of Severn's temperament, for he gives 
him some excellent advice: 

2 "... to you, my friend, I hope he will have given what 
you stand much in need of a confidence amounting to a 
faith. Study to gain this, Severn, for trust me, that much, 
very much with invalids depends upon the countenances 
of those about them. Omit no opportunities that present 
themselves to induce Keats to disburthen his mind to you. 
I know (tho' since he left England it has come to my 
knowledge) that he has much upon it. Avoid speaking of 
George to him. George is a scoundrel! 3 but talk of his 
friends in England, of their love, their hopes of him. Keats 
must get himself well again, Severn, if but for us. I, for 
one, cannot afford to lose him. If I know what it is to love, 
I truly love John Keats. I sent your letter (the last) to 
Brown. Brown read it, with omissions and additions, next 
door, and returned it to me to-day." 

In spite of Keats's unhappiness and his physical state, 
he was by no means obliged to keep within doors at the 
Villa da Londra. Not at all, he and Severn did the best they 
could under the circumstances to see the town. What they 
did, we know only through Severn's recollections, and he is 

1 Apparently missing. At any rate, not quoted by any one, so far as 
I can discover. 

2 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 

8 Haslam and Brown were thoroughly prejudiced against George Keats 
and never entirely changed their opinions, even when Dilke, Rice, and Rey- 
nolds, after hearing the facts, had entirely exonerated him. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 493 

not very clear as to the order in which the various events 
occurred, but I make no doubt that they did occur sub- 
stantially as he relates them. The date he gives for the 
first outing seems unquestionably too early in their stay at 
Naples, but no matter for that. Here is Severn's account of 
the event: 

1 "On the afternoon of the same day we came ashore we 
saw a grand review of the Neapolitan troops. The men 
had a fine, martial appearance I thought, but Keats would 
not allow that they had any backbone in them, and ere 
long events proved how right he was." 

Keats and Severn were not four days in Naples, as Sir 
Sidney Colvin thought, the passport (which Sir Sidney had 
not seen) proves them to have been there at least a week. 
An interesting hearsay anecdote has recently been pub- 
lished, in Reminiscences of a Literary Life by Charles 
MacFarlane. MacFarlane had been living in Naples for 
four years, and in this Autumn of 1820 was a young fellow 
of twenty-one. Naples is not a large city, and the society 
of English residents among themselves was very restricted 
indeed. Naturally, therefore, MacFarlane knew Charles 
Cotterell, and Cotterell seems to have told him the anec- 
dote, for he was not present himself on the afternoon to 
which it refers. Making all allowances for remembered 
words and such like things, nevertheless there seems no 
reason to question the main authenticity of the tale, which 
I shall tell in MacFarlane's words; he is speaking, of course, 
of Keats: 

" ... he was driving with my friend Charles Cottrell from 
the Bourbon Museum, up the beautiful open road which 
leads up to Capo di Monte and the Ponte Rossi. On the 
way, in front of a villa or cottage, he was struck and moved 
by the sight of some rose-trees in full bearing. Thinking to 
gratify the invalid, Cottrell, a ci-devant officer in the Brit- 

1 Life of Joseph Severn , by William Sharp. 



494 JOHN KEATS 

ish Navy, jumped out of the carriage, spoke to somebody 
about the house or garden, and was back in a trice with a 
bouquet of roses. 

1 How late in the year! What an exquisite climate! ' said 
the Poet; but on putting them to his nose, he threw the 
flowers down on the opposite seat, and exclaimed : ' Hum- 
bugs! They have no scent! What is a rose without its 
fragrance? I hate and abhor all humbug, whether in a 
flower or in a man or woman ! ' And having worked him- 
self strongly up in the anti-humbug humour, he cast the 
bouquet out on the road. I suppose that the flowers were 
China roses, which have little odour at any time, and 
hardly any at the approach of winter. 

Returning from that drive, he had intense enjoyment in 
halting close to the Capuan Gate, and in watching a group 
of lazzaroni or labouring men, as, at a stall with fire and 
cauldron by the roadside in the open air, they were dispos- 
ing of an incredible quantity of macaroni, introducing it in 
long, unbroken strings into their capacious mouths, with- 
out the intermediary of anything but their hands. ' I like 
this/ said he; * these hearty fellows scorn the humbug of 
knives and forks. Fingers were invented first. Give them 
some carlini that they may eat more! Glorious sight! 
How they take it in!'" 

Two days after Keats's and Severn's arrival, King 
Ferdinand, in spite of having not long before sworn fealty 
to the new Neapolitan constitution, incontinently deserted 
his post and fled to the Austrians. His departure, however, 
seems to have made little difference as regards certain 
customs, if, as Severn says, the next happening took place 
on the very evening of the king's flight. This is what 
Severn remembers: 

1 "We went that evening to the San Carlo Theatre, and 
much admired the fine scene-painting, though the singing 
was not good, and the acting indifferent. We were particu- 
larly struck by the admirable painting or clever represen- 
tation of two sentinels on the stage, one at either side. To 

1 Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 495 

our astonishment an amazement which gave way to 
indignation we saw at the end of the act, the painted 
sentries become suddenly animated and move about. 
They were, in fact, real men, and such was the debase- 
ment of the Neapolitan national character that this out- 
rage was actually permitted to pass without indignant 
challenge. This gross instance of tyrannical despotism 
was more than either of us could stand, so we rose and 
forthwith left though not till Keats had exclaimed in a 
frenzy, 'Severn, we'll go on at once to Rome, for as I know 
that I shall not last long, it would make me die in anguish 
if I thought I was to be buried amid a people with such 
miserable political [debasement ?].'" 

If King Ferdinand took to his English man-of-war, en 
route to Austria, two days after Keats and Severn arrived 
in Naples, he must have gone on November third. Severn 
declares that, on the day after the theatre adventure, he 
and Keats were on their way to Rome, but there is certainly 
a discrepancy here, for they were still in Naples on No- 
vember seventh. Since we have no contemporary account 
to put us right, we shall have to be content with the realiza- 
tion that Severn got his days a little mixed. While they were 
at the Villa da Londra, Keats read the whole of Clarissa 
Harlowe in nine volumes. A difficult feat to perform in a 
week; an almost impossible one, even for so omnivorous a 
reader as Keats, had the time been four days. In Naples, 
Keats received another letter from Shelley, again urging 
him to come to Pisa, but not inviting him to stay in the 
Shelleys' house. Keats, however, determined to keep to 
his plan of going to Rome. It would have been awkward 
for him to do otherwise, since any benefit which Severn 
might derive from the journey was contingent upon its 
objective being Rome. Also, Keats hoped much from Dr. 
Clark's care. He had written twice to Dr. Clark, once from 
the ship, and once from Naples, asking him to find suitable 
lodgings. There was nothing to be gained by lingering in 



496 JOHN KEATS 

Naples, and Keats was anxious to be settled. On Monday, 
November sixth, Keats went to the British Legation and 
again had his passport viseed. The vise reads: 

"Seen at the British Legation in Naples. November 6, 
1820. Good to go to England By authority of the Min- 
ister. 

A. DOUGLAS, 

Secretary of Legation." 

Why Keats wished his passport viseed for England, I am 
unable to understand. Was it a necessary formality in case 
he wanted to go home by a different route? 

On Tuesday the seventh, another vise was applied for. 
This time to enable the travellers to enter the Papal 
States. In this case, a time limit is prescribed. The vise is 
explicit on this point: 

"Seen at the Papal Consulate General. 
Good to go into the States of His Holiness within 12 days. 
Naples, November 7, 1820. 

Consul General 

DOMINIC ALBERTAZZI." 

Since the time was short, the way long, and a vettura a 
creeping, crawling sort of vehicle, we may suppose that the 
friends started their journey bright and early of a morning, 
and that this morning was the very next day, Wednesday, 
November eighth. 

On the evening before their departure, Charles Cotterell 
insisted upon giving them a farewell dinner, a questionable 
attention as far as Keats was concerned. Cotterell and 
Company were wine merchants as well as bankers, and 
made excellent white and red Falernian wine from grapes 
grown in their own vineyards. From this trifling fact we 
can see that the dinner must have combined English 
heartiness with Italian charm, and been just such an oc- 
casion as would have delighted Keats two or three years 
earlier. Like Vesuvius itself, it came too late to afford him 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 497 

any enjoyment. According to Severn, "Poor Keats made 
a special effort and was very entertaining; and he did not 
appear to suffer much." 1 Keats had an exquisite social 
sense, and we have seen how popular he made himself be- 
fore illness sapped the spring of his vitality. Yet no such 
effort as this dinner should have been demanded of him. 
In permitting Cotterell to plan such an entertainment, 
Severn signally failed in both tact and sense. 

It was a long distance from Naples to Rome, one hun- 
dred and thirty-nine miles, or nineteen posts, says Coxe's 
Picture of Italy^ 1818. According to this volume, the 
journey was broken in three places, at Mola di Gaeta, at 
Terracina, and at Velletri. Roughly speaking, then, a day's 
journey was thirty- four miles. Severn says that the 
vettura went so slowly that he was able to walk nearly the 
whole way, in which case it is quite clear that he and Keats 
journeyed at no such speed as the compiler of this guide- 
book recommends. Also Severn says that "the roads were 
bad, and the accommodation at the wayside inns villain- 
ously coarse and unpalatable." The road was noted for its 
poor accommodations, but Severn speaks with such violence 
that it seems plain that he and Keats stopped at other 
places than those most frequented by travellers. In view of 
these things, I am very much inclined to think that it took 
Keats and Severn five days to accomplish the sixty-nine 
miles to Terracina, and that they stopped four nights on 
the road at Capua, Santa Agata, Mola, and Fondi 
making the journey, therefore, at the rate of about sixteen 
miles a day. Terracina, or rather the Torre dell' Epitafio, 
was the boundary post between the Kingdom of the Two 
Sicilies and the Papal States. This tower is an ancient 
edifice whose name is derived from the inscriptions carved 
upon it. A guard was stationed here, and all the personnel 
required to examine passports, luggage, etc., and here 
Keats's passport was viseed for the last time: 

1 Reminiscences quoted in Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



498 JOHN KEATS 

"12, Nov. 1820. 

Seen at the Epitafio. Good to enter the Papal States. 
Given at the Directory of Police in Terrac[ina]. 

B.C." 

With all our guessing, one thing is a fact. Keats and 
Severn reached Terracina on Sunday, November twelfth. 
They must, then, have taken the journey by very easy 
stages, or not have left Naples until Friday, the tenth, and 
the former appears the most likely supposition. It seems 
probable that, having come the five miles from Fondi and 
endured the necessary official delay at the Torre dell' 
Epitafio, Keats and Severn rested for the remainder of 
Sunday at Terracina. Starting on Monday, and proceed- 
ing at the same rate, their farther stopping places were 
probably Mesa, Torre de' Tre Ponti, Velletri, and Albano, 
and so straight to Rome, which they must have reached 
on Friday, November seventeenth. There were two post 
roads from Terracina to Rome, one over the Pontine 
Marshes, which was considered dangerous on account of 
the "mal 1 aria" until after the first frost or, as we 
should say to-day, until the cold weather had killed the 
mosquitoes. The other road was a little shorter, but very 
hilly. Severn does not mention the Pontine Marshes, but, 
as the road which crossed them was much the most used 
and November was well past the malaria season, I assume 
it to have been the one taken. 

Severn's account of the journey shows how very ex- 
hausted Keats was. The weather seems to have cleared up, 
but the poor food was a severe tax on Keats's disordered 
stomach, and the confinement in the little carriage, to- 
gether with the jolting, must have caused him much 
suffering. Severn, who walked most of the time, reached 
Rome considerably stronger than when he left England, 
but he has no such good report to give of Keats. He is 
writing long afterwards, yet we can see that his words are 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 499 

less highly coloured by the passage of time than was usual 
with him: 

1 " Keats, on the other hand, had become very listless, and 
seldom seemed even relatively happy, except when an un- 
usually fine prospect opened before us, or the breeze bore 
to us exquisite hill fragrances or breaths from the distant 
blue seas, and particularly when I literally filled the little 
carriage with flowers. He never tired of these, and they 
gave him a singular and almost fantastic pleasure that 
was at times almost akin to a strange joy. But there was 
nothing sufficiently out of the common to impress us till 
we reached the Campagna, whose vast billowy wastes, 
Keats said, were like an inland ocean, only more monoto- 
nous than that we had lately left." 

Crossing the Campagna, the young men came upon a 
strange sight: a Cardinal, in a large crimson cloak, ac- 
companied by two footmen in livery, shooting song birds 
by the aid of an owl tied to a stick. To the owl was 
fastened a small mirror which glittered as the owl moved, 
and this glittering served to attract the little birds who 
were flying about in scores. "The whole merit of this 
sport," says Severn, "seemed to be in not shooting the 
owl." The footmen kept loading the Cardinal's fowling- 
pieces, and, continues Severn, greatly impressed, "it was 
astonishing the great numbers of birds he killed." Nothing 
could have made plainer how far away England was than 
this remarkable encounter. 

The first view of Rome was an event, even to the sick 
man. "We were both much excited" Severn reports. They 
entered Rome by the Lateran Gate, and almost immedi- 
ately saw the Colosseum, not cleaned up as it is in our day, 
but covered with vines, that superb and stupendous ruin 
rising out of a rubbish heap with which Piranesi and a host 
of other artists have made us familiar. Along the paved 
streets clattered the little carriage straight to the door of 

1 Reminiscences quoted in Life of Joseph Severn, by William Sharp. 



500 JOHN KEATS 

the right-hand house at the bottom of the steps leading 
from the Piazza di Spagna to the Trinita dei Monti, where 
Dr. Clark had taken lodgings for them on the first floor. 
Dr. Clark himself lived just across the square, and he had 
arranged for Keats to be near by in order that he might 
have him constantly under observation. 

Dr. (afterwards Sir James) Clark was a Scotchman, and 
at the time he undertook the care of Keats a comparatively 
young man of thirty-two. He had begun life by reading 
law, but had soon given it up in favour of surgery. In 1 809, 
he became a member of the College of Surgeons of Edin- 
burgh, and immediately entered the navy as an assistant 
surgeon. At the end of the war with France, he was put on 
half-pay, and at once returned to Edinburgh and began to 
study medicine at the University. He received his degree 
in 1817, and the following year went to Switzerland in 
charge of a consumptive patient. While there, he began to 
collect data on the effects of climate upon phthisis. In 
1819, he settled in Rome, and here he stayed, going to 
Germany in the Summers in pursuit of his climatic studies, 
until 1826, when he moved to London where Prince 
Leopold made him his private physician. In 1834, the 
Prince induced the Duchess of Kent to give him a similar 
post in her household, and on Queen Victoria's succeeding 
to the throne he was appointed her physician in ordinary, 
and before the year was out found himself a baronet. So 
far Clark's life had been as smooth as oil, but a false 
diagnosis, on account of which an unmarried lady's char- 
acter was badly, and most unjustly, besmirched, ruined 
his practice in spite of the continued patronage of the 
court. He was noted for his conciliatory manner, and the 
care he took to disguise the taste of unpleasant drugs. 
He made no addition to medical knowledge, but served 
commendably in various official capacities and on several 
royal commissions. In 1860, he gave up practice and re- 
tired to Bagshot Park, which was lent him by the queen. 
He died in 1870. 




KEATS'S LODGING IN THE PIAZZA DI SPAGNA, ROME 

I'ti/ili Itdrn ity A//.S.V A/uryuret Slit'jtartl 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 501 

Society knew of the case of Lady Flora Hastings, but we 
know of the case of John Keats and it is painful in the 
extreme. Everything that ignorance could blunder into, 
every mistake of practice which could be made, were done 
and made with the best possible intentions by Dr. Clark. 
He meant well, but the tale is heart-rending. A perfectly 
just summing up of him is, I think, that he was a poor 
doctor, with a kindly heart and a pleasant bedside manner. 

Who gave Keats his introduction to Dr. Clark, I have 
been unable to discover. Taylor, writing in February to 
George Keats, 1 speaks of him as "a very eminent English 
physician to whom providentially we were able personally 
to recommend him." Two extracts of letters from Clark, 
and one original letter, were among certain papers bought 
by me long ago. The collection is evidently from Wood- 
house's or Taylor's store of documents. The only one of 
these Clark letters with a beginning, the holograph, is 
addressed to " My dear Gray." Who this Gray was, I can- 
not find out, possibly Samuel Edward Gray, author of a 
Supplement to the Pharmacopoeia published in 1818. As 
a well-known pharmacologist, and contributor to the 
Medical Repository, Gray would very likely have known 
both Dr. Clark and Dr. Darling, and may possibly have 
served as the bridge between the two. Taylor's intimacy 
with Dr. Darling I have already mentioned, 2 and any 
introduction received through Darling would, without 
doubt, in Taylor's estimation, have justified the inclusive 
"we." The first of these extracts is from a letter written 
very soon after Keats's arrival in Rome. It is a copy 
merely, made from the original letter; there is no sig- 
nature, but the paper is headed "Extract of a letter from 
Dr. Clark." 

" Rome Nov. 27 1820 

Keats arrived here about a week ago & I have got him 
into comfortable lodgings. I can hardly yet give you a 

1 Unpublished Letter. Author's Collection. 2 See Vol. II, p. 422. 



502 JOHN KEATS 

decided opinion of his case but will in my next. The chief 
part of his disease, as far as I can yet see seems seated in 
his Stomach. I have some suspicion of disease of the heart 
and it may be of the lungs, but of this say nothing to his 
friends as in my next I shall be able to give you something 
more satisfactory. His mental exertions and application 
have I think been the sources of his complaint If I can 
put his mind at ease I think he'll do well get Mr. Taylor 
or some of his friends to write him. I'm afraid the Idea of 
his expenses operates on his mind and some plan must be 
adopted to remove this if possible. The truth is having 
come abroad for the purpose of restoring his health, every 
thing must be done to favor the change of climate I 
mean that he shall buy or hire by the month a horse to 
ride out whenever the weather permits & so forth After 
all his expenses will be simple, and he's too noble an 
animal to be allowed to sink without some sacrifice being 
made to save him. I wish I were rich enough his living 
here should cost him nothing. He has a friend with him 
who seems very attentive to him but between you & I is 
not the best suited for his companion, but I suppose poor 
fellow he had no choice. I fear much there is something 
operating on his mind at least so it appears to me he 
either feels that he is now living at the expense of some one 
else or something of that kind. If my opinion be correct 
we may throw medicine to the dogs. Let everything be 
done to relieve his mind from any Idea of that kind as 
far as possible I feel very much interested in him and 
believe me will do everything in my power to be of service 
to him. I am glad to find the Edinburgh Reviews have 
been just towards him. He seems much pleased with Rome 
and prefers it greatly to Naples." 

Dr. Clark's diagnosis was singularly inadequate as re- 
gards Keats's physical state, but he showed considerable 
cleverness in so quickly apprehending his mental condition. 
His prescription of a horse to ride was at once followed. 
Keats got a horse and rode at a snail's pace in the Pincio 
and even along the banks of the Tiber beyond the Porta del 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 503 

Popolo. He also walked, or rather strolled, about Rome, 
but by Dr. Clark's orders eschewed all sight-seeing. 

Clark, finding that Severn's only letter of introduction 
was to the sculptor Canova, promptly gave him another 
to an English sculptor, John Gibson. Gibson was polite, 
and Keats, on hearing the tale of the visit from Severn, 
was most urgent to have his friend begin his picture for 
the Royal Academy's Travelling Scholarship Competi- 
tion at once. Severn demurred a little, on the plea that 
painting would take him too much away from Keats and 
that there would be time for that later when Keats should 
be better, whereupon Keats told him frankly that his hav- 
ing been awarded the gold medal for his Cave of Despair 
had made him an object of jealousy in various quarters. 
To point his moral, Keats informed him of a circum- 
stance which had happened the Winter before. Keats had 
been somewhere in company with Hilton and three other 
artists when Severn's picture, and the justness of the 
award, were mentioned. One of the painters began to run 
down the picture, declaring that Severn had tried many 
times for the medal and failed, and that it had been given 
him this time out of pity. Keats, a thorough partizan 
always as well as a loyal friend, had rushed into the 
breach and pronounced the thing an insufferable lie, say- 
ing that he knew Severn well and had seen the picture 
which was quite worthy of its success. The painters were 
probably not greatly impressed by Keats's opinion of the 
painting, but the fact that Severn had not before tried for 
the medal, and that he had received it in the usual way, 
was attested to by another of those present. Keats was so 
incensed at such a slander being current that he had left 
the party forthwith in high dudgeon. By telling all this to 
Severn, Keats won the argument, and Severn set to work 
on a preliminary sketch of a picture, the subject of which 
was to be the death of Alcibiades. 

Severn's absence threw Keats upon his own resources, 



504 JOHN KEATS 

but not for long. He made the acquaintance of a certain 
Lieutenant Isaac Marmaduke Elton, a quondam First 
Lieutenant of the Royal Engineers, now, like Keats, a 
consumptive, sojourning in Rome for his health. The 
Pincian Hill was then, as now, one of the chief promenades 
in Rome, and here Keats and Lieutenant Elton used often 
to walk. Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, was not 
infrequently among the promenaders. Lieutenant Elton 
was a tall, good-looking man, and his figure and address 
were soon noticed by the famous beauty, who fell into 
the habit of greeting him with melting and provocative 
glances. This so rasped Keats's nerves, to whom any re- 
minder of sex at the moment was extremely bitter, that he 
and Elton gave up going to the Pincio and thereafter 
walked elsewhere. Canova had just finished his remark- 
able nude statue of Pauline Bonaparte, and the three 
young men went to see it. Severn reports that they con- 
sidered it "beautiful bad taste," and that Keats gave it 
the unforgettable name of "The ^Eolian Harp." 

Keats really seemed to be better, and Severn became 
very hopeful. Keats even began talking again about his 
poem on the story of Sabrina, and he expressed a desire to 
have Severn play to him. A piano was hired, and Dr. 
Clark procured some music, of which Severn particularly 
remembers Haydn's Symphonies. Keats delighted in 
them, and, says Severn, "would exclaim enthusiastically, 
'This Haydn is like a child, for there is no knowing what 
he will do next/" 

During the first days in Rome, the friends, who talked 
no Italian and must have appeared to the astute Romans 
as eminently proper subjects for fleecing, were abominably 
served by the trattoria which had contracted to send in 
their meals. Expostulations produced no effect, but one 
day, when the dinner sent in was even worse than usual, 
Keats emptied the dishes one by one out of the window in 
full view of the man who had brought it, ending by point- 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 505 

ing to the basket as a hint to the porter to take it away. 
From that moment, Keats and Severn had nothing more 
to complain of on the score of food. 

Walking and riding could not take up the whole of 
Keats's time, and for the rest he read English and Italian. 
Once when he was reading Alfieri's poems, he suddenly 
threw down the volume, the lines: 

"Misera me! sollievo a me non resta 
Altro che'l pianto, ed il pianto diletto" 

were too poignant and too personal; he could read no 
more. 

In this Indian Summer period, he again wrote to Brown, 
the last letter of his we know of, perhaps the last he ever 
wrote. The letter, although it shows Keats still extremely 
depressed and not feeling as much improved in health as 
Severn believed, is nevertheless not nearly so desperate as 
the ones from the "Maria Crowther" and from Naples. 
There is the least grain of hope in it, so small that it can 
hardly be detected, but there notwithstanding. Its pre- 
sence was a cruel deception particularly cruel since it 
was so difficult for Keats to hope yet it was very natural. 
Dr. Clark was kind, attentive, and encouraging. There 
seemed to be an improvement. Here is the letter: 

"Rome, 30 November 1820. 
MY DEAR BROWN, 

f Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write 
a letter. My stomach continues so bad, that I feel it worse 
on opening any book, yet I am much better than I was 
in quarantine. Then I am afraid to encounter the pro-ing 
and con-ing of anything interesting to me in England. I 
have an habitual feeling of my real life having passed, and 
that I am leading a posthumous existence. God knows 
how it would have been but it appears to me how- 
ever, I will not speak of that subject. I must have been at 
Bedhampton nearly at the time you were writing to me 
from Chichester how unfortunate and to pass on the 



506 JOHN KEATS 

river too! There was my star predominant. I cannot 
answer anything in your letter, which followed me from 
Naples to Rome, because I am afraid to look it over again. 
I am so weak (in mind) that I cannot bear the sight of any 
handwriting of a friend I love so much as I do you. Yet I 
ride the little horse, and, at my worst, even in quarantine, 
summoned up more puns, in a sort of desperation, in one 
week than in any year of my life. There is one thought 
enough to kill me; I have been well, healthy, alert, &c., 
walking with her, and now the knowledge of contrast, 
feeling for light and shade, all that information (primitive 
sense) necessary for a poem, are great enemies to the re- 
covery of the stomach. There, you rogue, I put you to the 
torture; but you must bring your philosophy to bear, as I 
do mine, really, or how should I be able to live? Dr. Clark 
is very attentive to me; he says, there is very little the 
matter with my lungs, but my stomach, he says is very bad. 
I am well disappointed in hearing good news from George, 
for it runs in my head we shall all die young. I have not 
written to Reynolds yet, which he must think very neglect- 
ful ; being anxious to send him a good account of my health, 
I have delayed it from week to week. If I recover, I will do 
all in my power to correct the mistakes made during sick- 
ness; and if I should not, all my faults will be forgiven. 
Severn is very well, though he leads so dull a life with me. 
Remember me to all friends and tell Haslam I should not 
have left London without taking leave of him, but from 
being so low in body and mind. Write to George as soon as 
you receive this, and tell him how I am, as far as you can 
guess; and also a note to my sister who walks about 
my imagination like a ghost she is so like Tom. I can 
scarcely bid you good-bye, even in a letter. I always made 
an awkward bow. 

God bless you! 

JOHN KEATS." 

Keats probably got his information about George from 
a letter written from Louisville on June eighteenth, 1 which 
must have arrived in London after he had sailed and been 

1 Author's Collection. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 507 

forwarded to him. It contained no remittance, but many 
expressions of sympathy for John, he having just received 
Brown's epistle of March. The "good news" seems to 
have consisted of the facts that his little girl, who had 
been very ill while he was in England, had not died, and 
that he had a good prospect of soon selling his shares in a 
boat, which, when it happened, would enable him to send 
two hundred pounds to John immediately. 

Which of the three letters to Brown given in this chap- 
ter was the one that Brown wished to publish in his pro- 
posed biography, 1 there is no means of telling; but from his 
declaring the letter to be "of the most painful description," 
I suppose it was either the one written on board the " Maria 
Crowther" or the one sent from Naples. In either case, 
considering its purport and revelations, one cannot but 
realize how improper and unfeeling the suggestion of giv- 
ing it publicity must have seemed to Fanny Brawne, even 
though her name were suppressed. 

The comparative calm was of brief duration. On Sun- 
day, December tenth, Keats had a severe haemorrhage, 
which was followed by others on successive days. To the 
haemorrhages was added a very high fever. 

Four days after the relapse, on Thursday, December 
fourteenth, Severn wrote to Brown. The letter is quoted, 
with some slight changes, in Sharp's Life of Severn, and 
there it is printed as being to Mrs. Brawne, but I have a 
contemporary copy of it which is in the same collection of 
letters that contains those from Dr. Clark, and the copy is 
distinctly to Brown. In the last paragraph, there is a mes- 
sage to Mrs. Brawne: "I will write to Mr. Taylor on the 
next change in my friend, and to the kind Mrs. Brawne 
when I have any good news. Will you remember me to this 
lady Little did I dream on THIS when I saw her last in 
London." If Severn had been writing to Mrs. Brawne on 
the same day that he was writing to Brown, he would 

1 See Vol. 1 1, p. 425. 



508 JOHN KEATS 

scarcely have sent this message; and he obviously could 
not have sent it in a letter to Mrs. Brawne herself. The 
letter to Brown is as follows: 

"Rome Dec. 14, 1820 
MY DEAR BROWN 

I fear our poor Keats is at his worst. a most unlocked 
for relapse has confined him to his bed with every 
chance against him: it has been so sudden upon what I 
almost thought convalescence and without any seeming 
cause that I cannot calculate on the next change. I dread 
it, for his suffering is so great, so continued, and his forti- 
tude so completely gone, that any further change must 
make him delirious. This is the fifth day and I see him get 
worse, but stop I will tell you the manner of this 
relapse from the first. 

Dec. 17 4 morning. Not a moment can I be from 
him I sit by his bed and read all day and at night I 
humour him in all his wanderings, he has fallen asleep 
the first for 8 nights, and now from mere exhaustion. I 
hope he will not wake until I have written this, for I am 
anxious beyond measure to have you know this worse and 
worse state yet I dare not let him see I think it danger- 
ous. I had seen him wake on the morning of this attack, 
and to all appearances he was going on merrily and had 
unusual good spirits when in an instant a Cough seized 
him and he vomited near two Cup-fuls of blood. In a 
moment I got Dr. Clarke, who saw the manner of it, and 
immediately took away about 8 ounces of blood from the 
Arm it was black and thick in the extreme. Keats was 
much alarmed and dejected O what an awful day I had 
with him! he rush'd out of bed and said 'this day shall 
be my last' and but for me most certainly it would. At 
the risk of losing his confidence I took every destroying 
means from his reach, nor let him be from my sight one 
minute. The blood broke forth again in like quantity the 
next morning and the doctor thought it expedient to 
take away the like quantity of blood This was in the 
same dismal state, and must have been from the horrible 
state of despair he was in but I was so fortunate as to 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 509 

talk him into a little calmness, and with some English 
newspapers he became quite patient under the necessary 
arrangements. 

This is the 9 th day, and no change for the better five 
times the blood has come up in coughing in large quantities 
generally in the morning . . . but this is the lesser evil 
when compared with his Stomach not a single thing will 
digest the torture he suffers all and every night and 
best part of the day is dreadful in the extreme the dis- 
tended stomach keeps him in perpetual hunger or craving 

and this is augmented by the little nourishment he takes 
to keep down the blood Then his mind is worse than all 

despair in every shape his imagination and memory 
present every image in horror so strong that morning 
and night I tremble for his Intellect. The recollection of 
England of his ' good friend Brown ' and his happy 
few weeks in Mrs. Brawne's care his sister and brother 

O he will mourn over every circumstance to me whilst I 
cool his burning forehead until I tremble through every 
vein in concealing my tears from his staring glassy eyes. 
How he can be Keats again from all this I have little hope 

but I may see it too gloomy since each coming night I 
sit up adds its dismal contents to my mind. 

Dr. Clarke will not say so much although there is no 
bounds to his attention, yet with little success 'Can he 
administer to a mind diseased ' yet all that can be done 
most kindly he does whilst his Lady, like himself in 
refined feeling, prepares and cooks all that poor Keats 
takes for in this wilderness of a place (for an Invalid) 
there is no alternative. Yesterday Dr. Clarke went all over 
Rome after a certain kind of fish, and got it but just as I 
received it from Mrs. C. delicately prepared, Keats was 
taken by the spitting of blood and is now gone back all the 
9 days. this was occasioned by disobeying the Doctor's 
commands. Keats is required to be kept as low as 
possible to check the blood so that he is weak and 
gloomy. Every day he raves that he will die from 
hunger and I was obliged to give him more than allowed. 
You cannot think how dreadful this is for me the 
Doctor on the one hand tells me I shall kill him to give him 



510 JOHN KEATS 

more than he allows and Keats raves for more till I am 
in a complete tremble for him. But I have talked him over 
now. We have the best opinion of Dr. C's skill he 
seems to understand the case, and comes over 4 & 5 times a 
day he left word at 12 this morning to call any time in 
case of danger. 

I heard Keats say how he should like Mrs. Brawne and 
Mrs. Dilk to visit his sister at Walthamstow will you 
say this for me and to Mr. Taylor that Keats was about 
to write favorably on the very time of his relapse For 
myself I am keeping up beyond my most sanguine expec- 
tations 8 nights I have been up, and in the days never a 
moment away from my patient but to run over to the 
Doctor but I will confess my spirits have been some- 
times quite pulled down for these wretched Romans 
have no idea of comfort here I am obliged to wash up 
cook & read to Keats all day ... I wrote last to my good 
friend Haslam it will tell you all the events up to the 
relapse of Keats I had put the letters in post on the 
same morning it was my custom to walk until Keats 
awoke we did breakfast about 9 o'clock . . . 

Will you, my dear Brown, write to me for a letter to 
Keats now would almost kill him give Haslam this sad 
news. I am quite exhausted farewell I wish you 
were here my dear Brown 

Sincerely 

JOSEPH SEVERN 
I have just looked at him this will be a good night." 

The reason for the diary form of Severn's letters was 
that the English post went out only once a week. This 
letter seems to have been concluded on Monday, Decem- 
ber eighteenth. 

The starvation diet to which Keats was reduced was at 
one time so meagre that his daily allowance consisted of 
one anchovy and a small piece of toast. If Dr. Clark said 
little, it was because he thought so much. Severn, we see, 
had not yet lost all hope, and naturally Dr. Clark did not 
wish to discourage him. What Dr. Clark's real opinion 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 511 

was, we see by this passage from one of his letters, appar- 
ently to the same correspondent to whom he had first 
written: 

l " Rome, Jan. 3 

In my last I said a few words about poor Keats. Since 
that date he has had another attack of bleeding from the 
lungs which has weakened him greatly, and he is now in a 
most deplorable state his stomach is ruined and the state 
of his mind is the worst possible for one in his condition, 
and will undoubtedly hurry on an event that I fear is not 
far distant and even in the best frame of mind would not 
probably be long protracted. His digestive Organs are 
sadly deranged, and his lungs are also diseased either of 
these would be a great evil, but to have both under the state 
of mind which he unfortunately is in must soon kill him. I 
fear he has long been governed by his imagination & feelings 
and now has little power & less inclination to keep them 
under. I feel much interested in the poor fellow indeed 
it is most distressing to see a mind like his (what it might 
have been) in the deplorable state in which it is. His friend 
Mr. Severn is most attentive to him. Were Christianity of 
no use but to give tranquillity to the sick bed it were the 
greatest blessing on earth. I am sorry indeed, and much 
disappointed in having to communicate such sad accounts 
of poor K. When I saw him I thought something might be 
done, but now I fear the prospect is a hopeless one " 

January third was a Wednesday, and by the following 
Monday or Tuesday a very slight improvement had taken 
place in Keats's condition. It was infinitesimal, but 
enough to start Severn's volatile temperament hoping 
again. On Thursday, January eleventh, bethinking him of 
his promise to let Mrs. Brawne know of any alteration for 
the better, he sat down and wrote her a letter. This letter, 
from which I shall give quotations only, is not merely im- 
portant for the information it gives of Keats's condition, 
but for the light it throws on Severn's character. An early 

1 Copy in Author's Collection. 



512 JOHN KEATS 

paragraph shows us as much of Keats's state of mind as 
Severn was capable of comprehending, and also reveals the 
light-hearted simplicity with which Severn had under- 
taken the journey: 

1 " I most certainly think I shall bring him back to Eng- 
land at least my anxiety for his recovery and comfort 
make me think this for half the cause of his danger has 
arisen from the loss of England from the dread of never 
seeing it more. O this hung upon him like a torture 
never may I behold the like again even in my direst enemy 
Little did I think what a task of affliction & danger I 
had undertaken, for I only thought of the beautiful mind of 
Keats my attachment to him and his convalescence." 

The facts which gave Severn his renewed hope seem 
slim enough. This is his relation of them: 

"But I will tell you my dear Madam the singular 
reason I have for hoping his recovery In the first 
violence of this attack his memory presented to him every 
thing that was dear & delightful even to the minutiae 
and with it all the persecution & I may say villainy 
practised upon him his exquisite sensibility for every- 
one save his poor self all his own means & comfort 
expended upon others almost in vain These he would 
contrast with his present suffering & say that all was 
brought on by them and he was right. Now he has 
changed to calmness & quietude as singular as productive of 
good for his mind was certainly killing him. He has now 
given up all thoughts hopes or even wish for recovery 
His mind is in a state of peace from the final leave he has 
taken of this world and all its future hopes, this has been 
an immense weight for him to rise from. He remains quiet 
& submissive under his heavy fate. 

Now if anything will recover him it is this absence of 
himself. I have perceived for the last 3 days symptoms of 
recovery Dr. Clarke even thinks so nature again 
revives in him I mean where art was used before 

1 From a contemporary copy of the letter. Author's Collection. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 513 

Yesterday he permitted me to carry him from his bed room 
to our sitting room to put him clean things on, and to 
talk about my Painting to him This is my good news 
Don't think it otherwise my dear Madam, for I have been 
in such a state of anxiety & discomforture in this barbarous 
place that the least hope of my friends recovery is a heaven 
to me. 

For three weeks I have never left him I have sat up at 
night I have read to him nearly all day & even in the 
night I light the fire, make his breakfast & sometimes 
am obliged to cook make his bed and even sweep the 
room. I can have these things done, but never at the time 
when they ought & must be done so that you will see 
my alternative What enrages me most is making the 
fire. I blow blow for an hour the smoke comes 
fuming out my kettle falls over on the burning sticks 
no stove Keats calling me to be with him the fire 
catching my hands & the door bell ringing all these to 
one quite unused and not at all capable with the want 
of every proper material come not a little galling " 

The letter goes on to tell of two new difficulties which 
were giving Severn a great deal of trouble. The first was 
brought about by the landlady of the apartment, who had 
notified the police that a man with consumption was dying 
in her house. Long before the English doctors had found 
out that tuberculosis was a contagious disease, the Ital- 
ians were convinced of the fact, and by their law every- 
thing in the room occupied by a tuberculous patient, even 
to the very wall-paper, must, after his death, be burnt. 
Now both Severn and Dr. Clark thought it would cheer 
Keats up to move him from his bed-room to the sofa in the 
sitting-room for a few hours. In the sitting-room were his 
and Severn's few books, the hired piano, Severn's painting 
materials, in short everything of .value which the friends 
possessed. All these things would be destroyed if it came 
to the knowledge of the police that Keats had been carried 
into the room. The landlady's private quarters being on 



JOHN KEATS 

the same floor made discovery a hard thing to evade, but 
somehow Severn managed it, even going so far as to sweep 
Keats's bed-room in order to avoid calling the maid, and 
going without his dinner that Keats might think him 
dining when he was really sweeping. 

The second difficulty was the looming up of possible 
financial complications. Keats, it will be remembered, 
had a credit at Taylor and Hessey's of one hundred and 
fifty pounds. The unknown "Brown Esq" seems to have 
arranged that this money should be paid through the me- 
dium of the well-known Roman bankers, Torlonia and 
Company. On their advice, Keats had drawn one hun- 
dred and twenty pounds on his first draft, an amount 
which seriously nettled somebody at home, either "Brown 
Esq " or Taylor and Hessey themselves. Severn asks Mrs. 
Brawne to write and explain matters to Taylor. But this 
was only the beginning of the trouble, as we shall see. 
Severn's letter ended by saying: 

"present my respectful Compliments to Miss Brawne who 
I hope & trust is quite well now that I think of her my 
mind is carried to your happy Wentworth Place O, I 
would my unfortunate friend had never left it for the 
hopeless disadvantage of this comfortless Italy he has 
many many times talked over the few happy days at your 
House the only time when his mind was at ease. I hope 
still to see him with you again farewell my dear Madam. 
One more thing I must say poor Keats cannot see 
any letters at least he will not they affect him so 
much and increase his danger The two last I repented 
giving he made me put them into his box unread, more 
of this when I write again meanwhile any matter of 
moment had better come to me I will be very happy 
to receive advice & remembrances from you once more 
farewell." 

The difficulty about the letter-of-credit was a very real 
and a very unpleasant one. Taylor had never expected to 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 515 

have to meet the payments on it with his own, or the 
firm's, money. He was in daily expectation of remittances 
from George, which George was totally unable to send. 
He seems to have delayed to honour the large draft from 
Rome until such representations reached him from there 
as made it impossible for him to hold off longer. The dire 
state in which things were, was forced upon his attention 
by Mrs. Brawne, and very likely also by Haslam, and 
finally by Dr. Clark himself. Clark's letter 1 to the un- 
known Gray could not be withstood. It made matters 
very clear, both as to money affairs and to Keats's hope- 
less condition. Clark says: 

"Rome January 13 th 1821. 

11 1 have not lost a Post, My dear Gray, in replying to your 
letter relative to p[oor Kea]ts as I am anxio[us] to prevent 
any [fu]rther misunderstanding o[n] the Bill affair; I say 
misunderstanding beca[use] it appears to me that there has 
been something of this kind either on Keats part or that of 
his friend Mr. Severn. The truth I am sorry to inform you 
is that Keats is at present so ill that he must know nothing 
of the matter, and therefore his particular motives for 
deviating from Mr. Taylors instructions, or whether he 
quite understood these, cannot now be understood, and 
perhaps it matters not much as things stand relative to the 
Bill. His friend informs m[e that] it was proposed by the 
Banker that instead of draw[ing] the stipulated sum in 
small Bills it should be [all drawn] at once, as incurring less 
expense, and the money [draw]n from him according as it 
was required. [This] plan as you know was adopted & 
about half the su[m] & rather more has already been drawn 
fr[om the ba]nker & the greater part of this sum spent. 
T[his bei]ng the case the Banker (Torlonia) to whofm] I 
explained the whole matter advises, as the plan [incurring 
the least expense, that th[e] Bill sho[uld] be paid off when 
due and that he will [re]tain [th]e money now in his hands 
as the proper[ty of] Taylor &c. till he receives information 
authorizing him] to pay it to Mr. Keats. This appears to 

1 Unpublished letter from Dr. Clark. Author's Collection. This letter 
is badly torn, but it has been possible to make out most of the mutilated 
words by the parts of them which remain. 



516 JOHN KEATS 

me also [the best] plan to arrange the matter; do you then 
ex[plain mattejrs to Mr. Taylor or Mr. Cowie and write to 
me, or [the ban]ker here without delay a[s] until he receives 
information] directly or thro 1 me he will not let Mr. Keats 
have [any mon]ey. Keats however in his present state 1 

nor must he know anything of the matter, as it would 
answer no good purpose and might add great[ly] to his 
present suffering to know that he ha[d done anyjthing to 
displease gentlemen that hav[e t]reated [him] so kindly. 
Write me therefore as soon as you have explained the 
matter to Mr. Taylor and in [t]he meantime I will take 
[on m]e, if Keats is in want of anything, that it shall be 
supplied. Poor fellow he is now so ill as to be constantly 
confined to bed, his stomach is still in a very bad state, 
the affection of his lungs is increasing and the state of 
his mind is the most deplorable possible under such 
melancholy circumstances amendment I fear is scarcely to 
be looked for, recovery almost out of the question. His 
friend Mr. Severn is most [attentive to him indeed scarcely 
[ever leaves] him. [His lo]dgings are pretty comfortable & 
I do not b[elieve he] would have a better chance of re- 
covery any[where] else unless it were among friends who 
had the power [of] calming his mind He has no religion 
he has been [ro]bbed of that & philosophy I fear is 
seldom sufficient] to produce tranquillity of mind under 
su[ch sad circumstances as he is placed his certainly 
is not sufficient. Pray when you write tell me if it was 
c[onsum]ption his brother died of. 

I have now my [dear Gr]ay explained to you the whole 
of th[e Bill a]ffair and the melancholy situation of poor] 
Keats who in my opinion will ne[ver leav]e Rome." 

The rest of the letter is too fragmentary to read. It had 
the effect of making Taylor send prompt advices to pay to 
Torlonia. But this was not all. It opened Taylor's eyes to 
two very patent facts: one was that Keats was certainly 
dying; the other that, until he died, he would continue to 
need money. By this time, Taylor had begun to lose hope 

1 The letter is torn here. 



ITALIAN JOURNEY. THE END 517 

in help coming from George. He, himself, could afford 
nothing more, and, in order to supply Keats, he took the 
only course open to him, he set on foot a subscription 
among Keats's friends and well-wishers. Lord Fitzwil- 
liam gave fifty pounds, and Rice, the painters Hilton and 
Dewint, Bonsor, and Percival gave ten pounds each. 1 
With this money a farther credit of one hundred pounds 
was assured to Keats. 

The knowledge that Keats was actually upon his death- 
bed was a final blow to all Taylor's hopes in regard to him. 
There would be no more poems, as he realized only too 
well. No future chances of success as the publisher of new 
books by Keats was possible, and this inescapable fact 
caused Taylor to do a cruel and unjust thing. He sent a 
demand note to George for the whole one hundred and 
fifty pounds of the first letter-of-credit. 2 He had no legal 
right whatever to do such a thing as he knew perfectly 
well, so well that he wrote to his cousin, Michael Drury of 
Philadelphia, 3 to enforce his action by means of a threat of 
publicity should George refuse. And this was not all. He 
suggested nay, urged that George should refund the 
money subscribed by the gentlemen from whom he had 
begged it. Whether Rice, Hilton, and the other ten- 
pound subscribers, considered their subscriptions in the 
light of a loan, we do not know, but it seems quite certain 
that Lord Fitzwilliam cannot have had any such idea. 
What Taylor did not tell George or Drury was that he 
was raising money for Clare at this same time, and that 
Lord Fitzwilliam had divided his bounty between the two 
poets, according to what he believed their respective 
needs, giving Clare one hundred pounds and Keats fifty. 
Later, after Keats's death, we find Taylor telling Wood- 

1 Woodhouse Book. Morgan Collection. 

2 Unpublished letter from Taylor to George Keats. February 17, 1821. 
Author's Collection. 

8 Unpublished letter from Taylor to Michael Drury. February 19, 1821. 
Author's Collection. 



5i 8 JOHN KEATS 

house that this "Advance, or Loan or Gift" of Lord Fitz- 
William's, and the "gift" of the other five gentlemen "de- 
serves to be mentioned to Abby, who may do as he pleases 
about it." * George did not honour this note at the time it 
was sent, but eventually he paid the full amount. In spite 
of the unworthy and indecent haste in which Taylor tried 
to collect from George, his kindness to John suffered no 
diminution. In the letter to Drury, he says of the new 
letter-of-credit: "John has been advised of this further 
advance being ready, tho' not of the way in which it has 
been raised, for that would destroy him at once," and he 
says practically the