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'Like anxious men
Who on wide plains gather in panting troops,
When earthquakes jar their battlements and towers.'
'By her in stature the tall Amazon
Had stood a pigmy's height; she would have ta'en
Or with a finger stayed Ixion's wheel.'
Here is no trace of Spenser's prodigal opulence, here in his maturity he is Greek. And, indeed, Keats has no vital relationship with Spenser, who, in spite of the purple splendour and regal embroidery of his singing robes, was at heart a grave Puritan, 'our sage and serious poet,' as Milton said, 'whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas.' In his youth Keats was intoxicated by Spenser's beauty of face and person, not by the inner graces of his character; and though he was so profoundly influenced as to model his own manner upon that of Spenser, when he grew to be his own master and the ruler of his own house, his method is his own, and in accent he is next-ofkin to the reigning poet-kings. As he grew in years he grew in mastery of his art. Gradually he came to prize the impression of the whole design above the parts that comprise it, to have constantly before his eye, even when elaborating a subsidiary curve, the imperious idea that controlled all and was subserved by all. Free and sweeping as the lines of a great artist are, they are under the restraining guidance of the central conception; he permits no ornament for the sake of ornament, no meaningless arabesque, but preserves the essential unity, as it is preserved in 'Macbeth' or 'King Lear,' amid the utmost multiplicity of detail. At the stage in which he wrote 'Endymion,' Keats had the youthful view of poetry, that it should be rarely prodigal of
beauties. I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess,' he said. The sentence conveys the very essence of the Romantic spirit, that it should surprise by a fine excess; whereas the very essence of the classic spirit is that it should elevate and purify rather than surprise, and that through a noble reserve, a grandeur of frugality. But his poetic ideals changed, and Keats' conception of what poetry ought to be, came to be juster and fuller than those left us by any other poet. The stage at which he cried, 'Oh, for a life of sensations rather than of thought,' was passing, had indeed passed away before his death, and he was devoting himself to the ardours rather than the pleasures of song.' 'Let us never forget,' as his biographer, Lord Houghton, said, 'that, wonderful as are the poems of Keats, yet, after all, they are rather the records of a poetical education than the accomplished work of a mature artist.' What should we have known of Sophocles, of Dante, of Shakespere, of Milton, had they died each at the age of twenty-four? The fir verbal, musical and emotional richness of his poetry is admittedly out of all proportion to its intellectual power, and even more out of proportion to its moral or spiritual intention. But we do not look for the furthest reaches of art in its earliest beginnings. Keats began where Shakespere began. Before Hamlet' and 'Macbeth' and 'Lear' there were other and lesser achievements; and before drama was attempted at all came the youthful genius-prompted exuberances of melody and colour and passion in 'Venus and Adonis' and the Rape of Lucrece.' The poet whose dreams were of the order which he thus describes in a letter, we need have no critical diffidence in regarding as the poet of by far the greatest promise in England since Shakespere himself:
'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, and serve my spirit the office which is equivalent to a King's Bodyguard : "then tragedy with sceptred pall comes sweeping by." According to my state of mind, I am with Achilles shouting in the trenches, or with Theocritus in the vales of Sicily; or throw my whole being into Troilus, and repeating those lines, "I wander like a lost soul upon the Stygian bank, staying for waftage," I melt into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be alone.'
If Keats could write with the light magic of touch such as is displayed here, for example, in 'Endymion':
'Whence came ye, merry damsels ! whence came ye!
We follow Bacchus ! Bacchus on the wing,
Bacchus, young Bacchus ! good or ill betide,
To our wild minstrelsy!'
If he could write like this, he could reach a higher strain, not far from the very highest, reached only when the supreme vision is vouchsafed-he could reach the truth, the gravity and the loveliness of this, when, speaking of melancholy, he says:—
'She dwells with Beauty-Beauty that must die :
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.'
We have seen that Keats shared in the new feeling for Nature. Nature, for her own sake, had never before the close of the 18th century so occupied the minds of the poets. Keats' nature-painting is not the mere detailed description of Thomson or of Cowper, it is rather Chaucer's enriched. There is the same freshness of apprehension and of touch as in Chaucer, for, like Chaucer, his contact with Nature was direct. Those pictures of Nature are not likest her which reproduce with photographic accuracy her every detail, but which, with the fewest strokes, convey to the eye of the mind an impression of the whole as received by the poet himself. In seeing and representing the features which are characteristic, the lines wherein the true expression lies, in this is the difficulty only overcome by genius. Keats' feeling for Nature was rich and full; his was the seeing eye and the understanding heart; and thrilled as he was by the subtle effluences of her beauty--' I have loved the principle of beauty in all things,' he said he had the gift of recording his emotion in the key of words appropriate and perfect. Is not this the key of Nature's music at the close of a day of opening summer?
'I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.'
Magical as many of his effects are, Mr Palgrave is right in noting that his landscape falls short of the landscape of Shelley in its comparative absence of the larger features of sky and earth; it is in foreground work that he excels: while again, in comparison with Wordsworth, Keats rests satisfied with exquisitely true delineation, and has little thought of allying Nature with human sympathy; still less of penetrating and rendering her deeper eternal signifi
On the life as on the poetry of Keats a potent influence was the friendship of Leigh Hunt. The author of 'Rimini' was a lover of Spenser and of the Italians who were Spenser's models. Although, as editor of the Examiner, he was a prominent soldier in the cause of Liberalism, and suffered for his faith and courage, he never lost a native light-heartedness and gaiety which gave a winning charm to his character and person. Kindred poetic tastes and mutual admiration (deepest at first, of course, on the side of Keats, for Leigh Hunt was already at the beginning of the friendship a poet of reputation) drew these two men very closely together. The motto most appropriate to the title-page of Leigh Hunt's poetical works would be that sentence of Oliver Goldsmith's which so well characterises the motive of his own gentle art-'Innocently to amuse the imagination in this dream of life is wisdom.' Leigh Hunt does not permit the Sturm und Drang' of life to appear in his verse; he kept far, far off the insidious, unintelligible world, and loved to lose himself in the enchanted forests of the