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HE impression the subject of this
sketch has made on the world is, in many ways, a deep and notable
The high value, and the Spring-freshness of his poems; the harsh treatment he received
at the hands of his inferiors ; the unfulfilled, yet devouring, love for the woman of his choice ; the early death in a foreign land-all serve to fill the picture of his life with tenderest light and shadow. One instinctively hushes one's voice while speaking of Keats; and it is difficult to restrain a certain enthusiasm of generosity which might easily be spent at the expense of judgment. Promise touches us as finished success can never do ! To the first, the mind gives horizons rich and varied as sunsets—to the latter, the clear light of the definite deed, splendid, it may be, but changeless. In the rush of feeling which guides the endeavour to round off the life which has gone but a little way, there is a pardonable disposition to stretch the curve backwards, so that it may become part of a larger circle. But perhaps a sphere is too fine a figure to express accurately our broken life, even at its best. We too readily forget-do we not ?—the irregularity of life. Our years have an uninterrupted progress which our thought and feeling can never claim.
Between the stream's beginning and the sea—in addition to the quick downward flow, the rapids and the cataracts—how many quiet pools there are, with their slowly-gyrating foam-bells; how many stretches of water where motion is so calm that the reflection of the banks scarcely loses any of its delicate pencillings by the movement. In our treatment of those who die young, there is often another failing which "leans to virtue's side”there is the belief that the few years were all that were necessary to complete the life. There is one sense, and one only, in which any man's life may truly be said to be complete in this world-namely, when Death asserts for us that the trial of his education has issued in the complete certainty that he is fit for a higher-it may be a lower-class than this earth can supply. There is, consequently, more kindness than justice in the thought that has been expressed with great strength as well as beauty by Mrs. Browning when she calls Keats
“ The man who never stepped
And died, not young-(the life of a long life
Keats himself was singularly sensible of the incompleteness of his life and work-in truth, few thoughts weighed more heavily on his aspiring spirit than did this very one ; and while he would, doubtless, have thrilled had it been told him that the Queen of British Poetesses should write such words about him, his fine eyes would have shone with a mild rebuke. Wonderful, beyond measure, are his poems, considered as the result of half á decade (for they were written, mainly, after he had attained his twentieth year); and if ever a man's work carried with it into the clear air of history a nimbus, as it were, from the land of marvels and impossible achievements, it was his. In him the marvellous is with us already—to exaggerate is to destroy!
The story of the life is as simple as it is short, yet it is, in more senses than one, intense and rapid. John Keats was born in Finsbury on the 31st of October 1795.
Charles Cowden Clarke tells us that “Keats's father was the principal servant at the ‘Swan and Hoop' stables-a man of remarkably fine common-sense and native respectability"-who had the good fortune to lift himself up in life by marrying his master's daughter. Leigh Hunt describes Keats's mother as a lively woman, passionately fond of amusement ;" and Lord Houghton repeats the opinion of another when he tells us she was tall, having “a large oval face, and a somewhat saturnine demeanour.” The seeming difference between these pictures might be accounted for (like so many other so-called inconsistencies) by the discovery of the point of view, and, probably, the relative intimacy of the draughtsmen with the subject of their etchings. Four children were born of the marriage-John, George, Thomas, and Fanny (who still survives at the advanced age of eightytwo). John was a seven months' child, and became an orphan at twelve years of age, having lost his father in 1804, and his mother in 1807. About £8000 were left to be equally divided among the children. The school to which Keats was sent was that kept by his friend Charles Cowden Clarke's father at Enfield, where our hero seems to have distinguished himself chiefly by his fighting capabilities; --we find him even gravely “squaring up at an usher, who had administered punishment to his brother Tom. It should be mentioned, however, that he managed to carry off all the prizes for English literature. The school library had strong attractions for him, and, even in these days, he showed a strong preference for Greek mythology. In his fourteenth year his guardian had him apprenticed to Mr. Thomas Hammond, a surgeon in Edmonton, two miles from Enfield, at a fee of two hundred guineas, besides expenses.