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ONSIDERING the place John Keats oc
cupies in English literature, and the sympathetic pains Lord Houghton has taken to make plain the outward circumstances of the poet's short life, it is somewhat strange that at this time the general public should know so little about him that the majority of even intelligent men, at least in America, should accept, in ignorance of the real facts, Byron's ribald stanza in “Don Juan" as descriptive of Keats's fate. I have just read over again the articles in “Blackwood” and the “ Quarterly" pretending to review “Endymion," and it seems inexplicable to me that any importance should ever have been attached to either. They were calculated to annoy a serious and sensitive person, and Keats was both sensitive and serious; but the idea that they killed him or hastened his death in the least seems to me absurd. I have before me now James Russell Lowell's “ Life of Keats.” This has been widely read, and read, too, by men who look upon
Keats as a poetical forebear; and yet I have never heard any of them quarrel with what Lowell says, although his article is much more objectionable, and what he says of Keats much more unprovoked and uncalled for than what was said by either Terry in “ Blackwood” or Gifford in the “Quarterly.”
Keats's letters do not even show any annoyance at the reception his poem received, for he wrote to his publisher with perfect good nature of the "slipshod Endymion," and concluded that as “the genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a man," and as “praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic of his own works," he would persevere and put his enemies to shame by writing better verses. After these enemies had done. their worst he answered them with the odes “ To a Nightingale” and “On a Grecian Urn,” with “The Eve of St. Agnes," with “ Lamia," and with Hyperion," of which latter Byron was compelled by his unwilling admiration to say: “It seems actually inspired by the Titans and sublime as Æschylus." Surely, Shelley and Hunt and Severn, and the other zealous friends and admirers of Keats, could never have fathomed the depth and strength of him who did all this splendid work after the blows were struck, if they believed that he was killed by the attacks of the “ Quarterly Review” and “ Blackwood's Magazine.”
John Keats was born on the 29th of October, 1795. His father, a man of uncommonly good sense and clear judgment, had charge of the large livery stables of Mr. Jennings in Moorfields, nearly oppo
site to the entrance into Finsbury Circus. The elder Keats married Mr. Jennings's daughter, and the poet was the first child born to them. There are several conflicting accounts as to Mrs. Keats's personality, but they all agree as to her lively disposition and her great ambition for her children. She died before John Keats had made the friends from whom nearly all the material for his biography was gathered, and the wife of George Keats, though she remembered as a child to have seen the lady whose son she afterward married, had only a hazy recollection of her husband's mother. The father was killed by a fall from his horse in 1804, leaving a family of four children — John, George, Thomas, and Fanny. The widow's means were not large,-about ten thousand pounds, but she determined to do for her children most ambitiously. John and George were to have been sent to Harrow, but wiser counsel prevailed, and they went instead to the excellent institution of Mr. Clarke, at Enfield. For the first few years at this school, John was more interested in athletic exercises than his studies, but he nevertheless, without effort, took always a high place in his classes. When he was about twelve years old, however, his disposition underwent a marked change, and he began studying with a zeal which interfered very seriously with his physical well-being, and the school prizes he carried off were taken at the expense of his health.
I have one of these prizes - “ Kaufmann's Dictionary of Merchandise "- in my possession. It bears this inscription: “Mr. Clarke's School at Enfield. Awarded to Master John Keats as a