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to the management of the business at the Swan and Hoop. There John, the eldest child, was born, October 31, 1795. As a boy he appears to have been at first chiefly remarkable for beauty of face, courage, and pugnacity. When about seven or eight years old he was sent to a school at Enfield, a small town some ten miles north of London. Here fighting — according to one of his schoolfellows
'meat and drink to him.” He is described as violent and generous, as "always in extremes," "in passions of tears or outrageous fits of laughter.” During the earlier part of his school days, Keats seemed destined for military success rather than for distinction as a poet; but when he was about thirteen the passion for study took possession of him, and he read with as much intensity as he had fought. He knew no Greek, and in Latin his classical attainments extended no further than the Æneid, yet he found out a way to Greek mythology through the pages of several handbooks in English. In this introduction to literature Keats had the benefit of the friendship of Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of the head-master and a young man of decided literary tastes.
Spenser's Influence. — During these years at Enfield, Keats lost his father and mother, and in 1810, when he was but fifteen, his guardian took him from school and apprenticed him to a surgeon at Edmonton. As this town is but a few miles from Enfield, Keats was able to keep up his intimacy with the Clarkes. The influence of Charles Clarke on Keats thus continued uninterrupted. The two friends read together, and discussed their favorite poets, and, through Clarke, Keats found a new world of delight in the poetry of Spenser. There is a close affinity between the genius of Spenser and that
of Keats, and in reading the Faërie Queene, the younger poet, with his beauty-loving and romantic nature, must have felt that he had come into his inheritance. Clarke says that he went "ramping" through the poem “as a young horse would through a spring meadow.” It seems to have been this pure enjoyment of Spenser's poetry that first stirred in Keats the desire to write.
Settles in London. - At eighteen Keats had thus gained access to those two enchanted regions -- the world of Greek mythology and the world of medieval romance which were to give their especial coloring to much of his greatest work. In 1814 he came up to London, and continued his study of medicine in the London hospitals. He seems to have acquitted himself creditably in his professional duties, but the whole force of his nature went out more and more toward poetry, which rapidly became his one absorbing passion. Through Clarke, who had also settled in London, he read the translation of Homer by the Elizabethan poet, George Chapman, and celebrated his conquest of this new kingdom for his imagination in a sonnet which is one of the first revelations of the extent of his poetic power.
Leigh Hunt. — Soon after, he met Leigh Hunt, and began a friendship which was to exercise an important influence on his career. Hunt, who was about ten years Keats' senior, was an amiable but somewhat volatile and superficial man, with a fine feeling for the beauty of a poetic phrase, but no great strength or creative power. His poetry, while sometimes pleasing, had a tendency to mere prettiness, and was too apt to sink into a colloquial familiarity which he mistook for ease, but which was beneath the dignity of art. His iiterary essays were graceful and appreciative. Hunt
was the head of what was derisively called the “Cockney School.” He had aroused the bitter antagonism of the great Tory periodicals, Blackwood's Magazine and the London Quarterly, by the position he had taken in politics as well as in literature, for circumstances had made him a hero of the young Liberals. When Keats came to London, Hunt was in prison, in consequence of certain unflattering comments on the Prince of Wales. After softening his captivity by procuring a flowered wallpaper and by much reading of Spenser and the Italian poets, Hunt became, to Liberals, a martyr to liberty, and to Tories an object of attack.
He had, moreover, aroused the opposition of the Edinburgh critics by an attack on the poetry of Wordsworth and of Scott. By becoming a poetic disciple of Hunt, Keats consequently laid himself open to castigation from two of the leading critical periodicals of the day.
Endymion and Its Critics. — The publication of his long poem of Endymion in the year following brought down upon the new adherent of the “Cockney School” the brutal abuse of the Quarterly and Blackwood's, or, as a great writer called it, “Blackguard's Magazine." We know now that the injustice and cruelty of these attacks were not the cause of Keats' early death, that Shelley was mistaken when he called the reviewers murderers, and Byron when he said that the poet of Endymion had been “snuffed out by an article.” Indeed, after the first shock, Keats showed a real restraint and manliness. “Praise or blame,” he declared, “has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works. ... I never was afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest." Keats himself spoke of Endymion as a “feverish attempt rather than
a deed accomplished;" and while it gives abundant evidence of high poetic power, it lacks the sustained excellence and the fine restraint which are found in the greatest works. Not only was the poem a failure in the eyes of the hostile critics: Keats had failed to express in it the best that was in him.
Rapid Development. — Keats was twenty-three when Endymion was published; he was not twenty-six when he died. Yet in the three years that remained for him, darkened toward the end by mental and physical sufferings, he won a lasting place among the poets of England. It is not the precocity of Keats that surprises us; it is the rapidity of his poetic development. He passes at one stride from the relaxing and mawkish strain so frequent in the earlier poems, and from the “indistinct profusion” of Endymion, to such highly wrought artistic masterpieces as Hyperion, The Eve of St. Agnes, and the Ode on a Grecian Urn. It argues well for Keats' manliness and for his whole-souled devotion to his art, that, in the face of hostile criticism, his genius could thus suddenly and triumphantly assert itself.
At this time (1818), a rival passion began to take its place beside Keats' love of poetry. He met Miss Fanny Brawne, and his first feelings of mingled attraction and disapproval gave way to a violent infatuation. It is a feverish and, on Keats' side, a pitiable love story, and carries us rapidly to a tragic ending. Signs of ill-health had before this begun to show themselves, the chances of any immediate recognition as a poet were most slight, and to Keats' excitable and jealous temperament, love meant tumult and too often torment. He held to his work, but the uncertainties and vexations of his position preyed upon him. “I shall be able to do nothing,"
he writes. “I should like to cast the die for love or death." A few months later (February, 1820), consumption declared itself, and from the first Keats had no hope of his own recovery.
In the same year he collected and published most of the poems which he had written since the appearance of Endymion, and on these poems his fame chiefly rests. In the fall of 1820 it became evident that Keats could not survive another winter in England, and in September he sailed for Naples. He lingered for a short time in what he called bitterly a “posthumous existence,” and died in Rome, February 23, 1821.
His Love of Beauty. — The moving principle of Keats' life and poetry is the worship of beauty. Somehow there had been lodged in this son of a London hostler a seemingly miraculous power to know and love beauty, and to embody this fine perception of it in a beautiful form. To him the exercise of this power to perceive and to create beauty was the supreme, almost the sole, interest. It took the place of a religion. The first articles of his creed remain for us in two familiar passages; in his conviction that
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,"
and that beauty and truth are one. We may add to these his prose statement that “with a great poet the sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration," and we may recall further his significant words to Miss Brawne, “Why may I not speak of your Beauty, since without that I could never have lov'd you?”
The delight in beauty in its outward manifestations depends partly on the soul and partly on the senses. Physically, Keats was endowed with so fine and