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MACMILLAN'S MAGAZINE.

NOVEMBER, 1860.

THE LIFE AND POETRY OF KEATS.

BY THE EDITOR,

KEATS was born in Moorfields, London, At school, Keats, according to the recolin October, 1795, the son of a livery- lections of Mr. Clarke and others of his stable keeper of some wealth, who had schoolfellows, was at first a perfect little attained that position by marrying his terrier for resoluteness and pugnacity, master's daughter and so succeeding him but very placable and frolicsome, very in the business. There were five chil- much liked, and, though not particularly dren, four sons and a daughter, of whom studious, very quick at learning. There John was the third. The father, who is would seem to have been more of pleadescribed as an active, energetic little sant sociability between the family of the man of much natural talent, was killed master and the scholars in the school at by a fall from a horse at the age of Enfield, and more of literary talk at thirty-six, when Keats was in his ninth bye-hours, than was then common at year; and the care of the children de- private English schools.

private English schools. At all events, volved upon the mother, a tall, large- when, by the death of his mother, of featured woman, of considerable force of lingering consumption, in 1810, the character. There was also a maternal guardianship of Keats, his two surviving uncle, a very tall, strong, and courageous brothers, and his only sister, devolved man, who had been in the navy, had on a Mr. Abbey, a London merchant served under Duncan at Camperdown, who had known the family, and when and had done extraordinary feats in the Mr. Abbey thought it best to take two way of fighting Partly in emulation of of the boys from school and apprentice this uncle, partly from constitutional them to professions, it was felt by Keats inclination, the boys were always fight- to be a very happy arrangement that he ing too—in the house, about the stables, was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary or out in the adjacent streets, with each at Edmonton, so near to Enfield, that other, or with anybody else. John, he could still go over when he liked to though the shortest for his years, and see the Clarkes. He was then fifteen the most like his father, was the most years of age. The share of the family pugnacious of the lot; but with his property held for him by his guardian pugnacity he combined, it is said, a till he came of age, was about 2,0001. ; remarkable sensibility, and a great love and his apprenticeship was to last five of fun. This character he took with years. him to a boarding-school at Enfield, From Edmonton, Keats was continear London, kept by the father of Mr. nually walking over to Enfield to see Charles Cowden Clarke, then also a boy, his young friend, Cowden Clarke, and not much older than Keats, receiving to borrow books. It was some time in his education under his father's roof. 1812 that he borrowed Spenser's "Faery

with one

Queene." The effect was immediate and in the minor poems of Milton, Shakeextraordinary. “He ramped ” says Mr. speare and Chaucer, and in Spenser Clarke, “through the scenes of the throughout, and that he rarely seemed romance ;" he would talk of nothing to dwell with the same enthusiasm on but Spenser; he had whole passages by passages of fervid feeling, of severe heart, which he would repeat; and he reference to life, or of powerful human would dwell with an ecstacy of delight interest. At this time, in fact, his feelon fine particular phrases, such as that ing for poetry was very much that of of the "sea-shouldering whale.” His an artist in language, observing effects first known poetical composition (he was which particularly delighted him, and then seventeen), was a piece expressly studying them with a professional admientitled “In Imitation of Spenser.” ration of the exquisite. He brooded “Now Morning from her orient chamber came,

over fine phrases like a lover; and often, And her first footsteps touch'd a verdant hill,

when he met a quaint or delicious word Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame, in the course of his reading, he would Silvering the untainted gushes of its rill; take pains to make it his own by using Which, pure from mossy beds,” &c.

it, as speedily as possible, in some poem From that moment it seemed as if he was writing. Ah! those days of Keats lived only to read poetry and to genial, enjoying youth, when, over the write it. From Spenser he went to fire, with a book in one's hand, one gets Chaucer, from Chaucer to Milton, and fine passages by heart, and, in walks so on and on, with ever-widening range,

or two choice companions, through all our sweeter and greater there is an opening of the common poets. He luxuriated in them by him- stock, and hours and miles are whiled self; he talked about them, and read away with tit-bits of recent reading from parts of them aloud to his friends ; he a round of favourite poets! These are became a critic of their thoughts, their the days when books are books; and it words, their rhymes, their cadences. is a fact to be remembered, as regards His chief partner in these tastes was literature, that one half of the human Mr. Cowden Clarke, with whom he race is always under the age of twentywould take walks, or sit up whole evenings, discoursing of poets and poetry ;

Before Keats's apprenticeship was and he acknowledges, in one of his over, it was pretty clear to himself and metrical epistles, the influence which his friends that he would not persevere in Mr. Clarke had in forming his literary becoming a surgeon.

becoming a surgeon. In the year 1816, likings. Above all, it was Mr. Clarke when he came from Edmonton to Lonthat first introduced him to any know- don, at the age of twenty, he did indeed ledge of ancient Greek poetry.

This enter himself as a student at the hoswas effected by lending him Chap- pitals; but he very soon gave up

attendman's Homer, his first acquaintance with ing them, and found more agrecable which, and its effects on him, are cele- employment in the society of Leigh brated in one of the finest and best- Hunt, Shelley, Godwin, Dilke, Ollier, known of his sonnets. Thenceforward the painter Haydon, Hazlitt, Charles Greek poetry, so far as it was accessible Armitage Brown, and others whose to him in translation, had peculiar fasci- names are less remembered. In this nations for him. By similar means he society of artists and men of lettersbecame fondly familiar with some of the forming, so far as the literary ingredient softer Italian poets, and with the stories was concerned, the so-called “Cockney of Boccaccio. It was noted by one of School," as distinct from the “ Lakists” his friends that his preferences at this of the North of England, and from the time, whether in English or in other Edinburgh men who gave both of them poetry, were still for passages of sweet, their names

sKeats at once took a prosensuous description, or of sensuous- minent place, less on account of what ideal beauty, such as are to be found he had actually done, than on the pro

one.

mise 'of what he was to be. On first hollow, seen in the starlight, one could settling in London, he had taken lodg- fancy that there had been a murder ; ings in the Poultry, in the heart of the nay, tradition points to spots where foul city ; but, as soon as he had aban- crimes have been committed, or where, doned the idea of following the medical in the dead of night, forgers, who had profession, he removed to Hampstead, walked, with discovery on their track, which, as the provincial reader ought along dark intervening roads, from the to know, is a suburb of London, as hell of lamp-lit London, had lain down you approach it from the north.

and poisoned themselves. In the day, London, with all the evils resulting however, and especially on a bright, from its vastness, has suburbs as rich summer day, the scene is open, healthy, and beautiful, after the English style and cheerful. On the one side, is a view of scenery, as any in the world ; and across a green valley, called “The Vale even now, despite the encroachments of of Health," to the opposite heights of the ever-encroaching brick and mortar Highgate; on the other, the eye traverses on the surrounding country, the neigh- a flat expanse of fields and meadows, bourhood of Hampstead and Highgate, stretching for many miles northward, near London, is one in which the lover and looking, in its rich level variety, like of natural beauty and the solitary might a miniature representation of all Eng. well delight. The ground is much the land. And then the lanes all about and highest round London ; there are real around, leading away from the Heath, heights and hollows, so that the omni- deep and steep, between high banks and buses coming from town have to put on along the old church and churchyard, additional horses ; you ascend steep and past little ponds and gardens, and roads, lying in part through villages of often ending in footpaths through fields quaint shops, and old, high-gabled brick where one has to get over stiles ! houses, still distinct from the great city, All this of llampstead and its vicinity though about to be devoured by it, in part even now; but, forty years ago, it was through straggling lines of villas, with still better. Why, at that time, London gardens and grassy parks round them, itself was a different city. There was and here and there an old inn; and, from less smoke ; there were no steamers on the highest eminences, when the view is the river ; and, from the overspanning clear, you can see London left behind, a bridges, the water could be seen running mass of purplish mist, with domes and clear beneath, with the consciousness of steeples visible through it. Where the fish in it. Then, too, the conveyance villages end, you are really in the between London and such suburbs as country. There is the Heath, on the Hampstead and Highgate was not by Hampstead side--an extensive tract of omnibuses passing every five minutes, knolls and little glens, covered here and but by the old stage-coaches, with their there with furze, all abloom with yellow guards and horns, coming and going in the summer, when the larks may be leisurely twice or thrice a day. In those heard singing over it ; threaded here days, therefore, Hampstead and Highand there by pathis with seats in them, gate were still capable of having an or broken by clumps of trees, and blue individuality of their own, and of having rusty-nailed palings, which enclose old- associations fixed upon them by the occufashioned family houses and shrubberies, pations of their residents, even though

where the coachman in livery may be these were in London daily, and were, seen talking lazily to the gardener ; but by their general designation, properly containing also sequestered spots where enough Londoners. Part of their celeone might wander alone for hours, or lie brity now, indeed, arises from associaconcealed amid the sheltering furze. At tions thus formed. Old Leigh Hunt, night, llampstead Ileath would be as visiting these scenes not long before his ghastly a place to wander in as death, would point out the exact wooden uneasy spirit could desire.

seat on the Ileath where he and Keats,

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Queene.” The effect was immediate and in the minor poems of Milton, Shakeextraordinary. "He ramped ” says Mr. speare and Chaucer, and in Spenser Clarke, “through the scenes of the throughout, and that he rarely seemed romance ;" he would talk of nothing to dwell with the same enthusiasm on but Spenser; he had whole passages by passages of fervid feeling, of severe heart, which he would repeat ; and he reference to life, or of powerful human would dwell with an ecstacy of delight interest. At this time, in fact, his feelon fine particular phrases, such as that ing for poetry was very much that of of the "sea-shouldering whale.” His an artist in language, observing effects first known poetical composition (he was which particularly delighted him, and then seventeen), was a piece expressly studying them with a professional admientitled "In Imitation of Spenser." ration of the exquisite. He brooded "Now Morning from her orient chamber came,

over fine phrases like a lover; and often, And her first footsteps touch'd a verdant hill,

when he met a quaint or delicious word Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame, in the course of his reading, he would Silvering the untainted gushes of its rill ; take pains to make it his own by using Which, pure from mossy beds," &c.

it, as speedily as possible, in some poem From that moment it seemed as if he was writing Ah ! those days of Keats lived only to read poetry and to genial, enjoying youth, when, over the write it. From Spenser he went to fire, with a book in one's hand, one gets Chaucer, from Chaucer to Milton, and

fine passages by heart, and, in walks so on and on, with ever-widening range, with one or two choice companions, through all our sweeter and greater there is an opening of the common poets. He luxuriated in them by him- stock, and hours and miles are whiled self; he talked about them, and read away with tit-bits of recent reading from parts of them aloud to his friends ; he a round of favourite poets! These are became a critic of their thoughts, their the days when books are books; and it words, their rhymes, their cadences. is a fact to be remembered, as regards His chief partner in these tasteg was literature, that one half of the human Mr. Cowden Clarke, with whom he race is always under the age of twentywould take walks, or sit up whole evenings, discoursing of poets and poetry;

Before Keats's apprenticeship was and he acknowledges, in one of his over, it was pretty clear to himself and metrical epistles, the influence which his friends that he would not persevere in Mr. Clarke had in forming his literary becoming a surgeon. In the year 1816, likings. Above all, it was Mr. Clarke when he came from Edmonton to Lonthat first introduced him to any know- don, at the age of twenty, he did indeed ledge of ancient Greek poetry. This enter himself as a student at the hoswas effected by lending him Chap- pitals; but he very soon gave up attendman's Homer, his first acquaintance with ing them, and found more agreeable which, and its effects on him, are cele- employment in the society of Leigh brated in one of the finest and best- Hunt, Shelley, Godwin, Dilke, Ollier, known of his sonnets. Thenceforward the painter Haydon, Hazlitt, Charles Greek poetry, so far as it was accessible Armitage Brown, and others whose to him in translation, had peculiar fasci- names are less remembered. In this nations for him. By similar means he society of artists and men of lettersbecame fondly familiar with some of the forming, so far as the literary ingredient softer Italian poets, and with the stories was concerned, the so-called “ 'Cockney of Boccaccio. It was noted by one of School,” as distinct from the “ Lakists” his friends that his preferences at this of the North of England, and from the time, whether in English or in other Edinburgh men who gave both of them poetry, were still for passages of sweet, their names- -Keats at once took a prosensuous description, or of sensuous- minent place, less on account of what ideal beauty, such as are to be found he had actually done, than on the pro

one.

mise 'of what he was to be. On first hollow, seen in the starlight, one could settling in London, he had taken lodg- fancy that there had been a murder ; ings in the Poultry, in the heart of the nay, tradition points to spots where foul city ; but, as soon as he had aban- crimes have been committed, or where, doned the idea of following the medical in the dead of night, forgers, who had profession, he removed to Hampstead - walked, with discovery on their track, which, as the provincial reader ought along dark intervening roads, from the to know, is a suburb of London, as hell of lamp-lit London, had lain down you approach it from the north.

and poisoned themselves. In the day,

, London, with all the evils resulting however, and especially on a bright, from its vastness, has suburbs as rich summer day, the scene is open, healthy, and beautiful, after the English style and cheerful. On the one side, is a view

s of scenery, as any 'in the world ; and across a green valley, called “The Vale even now, despite the encroachments of of Health," to the opposite heights of the ever-encroaching brick and mortar Highgate; on the other, the eye traverses on the surrounding country, the neigh- a flat expanse of fields and meadows, bourhood of Hampstead and Highgate, stretching for many miles northward, near London, is one in which the lover and looking, in its rich level variety, like of natural beauty and the solitary might a miniature representation of all Engwell delight. The ground is much the land. And then the lanes all about and highest round London ; there are real around, leading away from the Heath, heights and hollows, so that the omni- deep and steep, between high banks and buses coming from town have to put on along the old church and churchyard, additional horses; you ascend steep and past little ponds and gardens, and roads, lying in part through villages of often ending in footpaths through fields quaint shops, and old, high-rabled brick where one has to get over stiles ! houses, still distinct from the great city, All this of Hampstead and its vicinity though about to be devoured by it, in part even now; but, forty years ago, it was through straggling lines of villas, with still better. Why, at that time, London gardens and grassy parks round them, itself was a different city. There was and here and there an old inn; and, from less smoke ; there were no steamers on the highest eminences, when the view is the river ; and, from the overspanning clear, you can see London left behind, a bridges, the water could be seen running mass of purplish mist, with domes and clear beneath, with the consciousness of steeples visible through it. Where the fish in it. Then, too, the conveyance villages end, you are really in the between London and such suburhs as country. There is the Heath, on the Hampstead and Highgate was not by Hampstead side-an extensive tract of omnibuses passing every five minutes, knolls and little glens, covered here and but by the old stage-coaches, with their there with furze, all abloom with yellow guards and horns, coming and going in the summer, when the larks may be leisurely twice or thrice a day. In those heard singing over it ; threaded here days, therefore, Hampstead and Highand there by paths with seats in them, gate were still capable of having an or broken by clumps of trees, and blue individuality of their own, and of having rusty-nailed palings, which enclose old- associations fixed upon them by the occufashioned family-houses and shrubberies, pations of their residents, even though where the coachman in livery may be these were in London daily, and were, seen talking lazily to the gardener ; but by their general designation, properly containing also sequestered spots where enough Londoners. l'art of their celeone might wander alone for hours, or lie brity now, indeed, arises from associaconcealed amid the sheltering furze. At tions thus formed. Old Leigh Hunt, night, Hampstead Heath would be as visiting these scenes not long before his ghastly a place to wander in as death, would point out the exact wooden uneasy spirit could desire.

seat on the Ileath where he and Keats,

an

In every

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