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pleasure-loving an organization that his senses as well as his soul were delicately responsive to outward impressions. “The glitter of the sea," says Haydon, "seemed to make his nature tremble." He luxuriates in sensations, he goes into raptures over the taste of claret or of fruit. In his work he communicates something of his keener susceptibility to our duller and more phlegmatic senses. That wonder of romance, The Eve of St. Agnes, for instance, is a poem of sensuous impressions. We are made to feel the aching cold, or the "poppied warmth of sleep;" to hear the resonance of the silver trumpets, or the pattering of the “flawblown sleet;" to see the “carvèd angels, ever eager-eyed;" to taste the jellies “soother than the creamy curd.” It is a poem of contrasts: the radiance of light and color, the storm and darkness; the palsied crone and the ancient beadsman, beside the absorbing happiness and ecstasy of love and youth.
As a Master of Form. This same sensitiveness to beauty declares itself in the almost unrivaled felicity of phrase in Keats' best work. So rich are his best poems in this magical quality - as, for instance, his finest odes that we linger over them, held by pure delight in the perfection of the phrase. This full felicity of expression, perhaps Keats' greatest distinction as a poet, is the quality he seems to have admired most in the poetry of others. As a boy he had gone into raptures over the epithet “sea-shouldering whales;” and in the numerous allusions to the works of his favorite poets which are scattered through his letters, his enthusiasm is always for the phrase, never, or rarely, for the idea.
With this openness of nature to beautiful impressions and this felicity of phrase, Keats luxuriated in two great realms of beauty — the world of the classic Greek, and the world of the medieval romance. His fellowship
with the one has given us such poems as Hyperion and the Ode on a Grecian Urn; his fellowship with the other, St. Agnes' Eve and La Belle Dame sans Merci.
His Place as a Poet. That Keats was an inspired interpreter of beauty; that he has enriched the literature with poems which, though few in number, possess a fascination of their own, these things are beyond question. Yet after this is freely recognized, the place which Keats holds among the great poets of England remains still undetermined. Our feeling on this matter will depend largely upon our ideal of poetry and our convictions as to its true aims. If we believe that the highest function of the poet is to give pleasure through the creation of a beauty that appeals primarily to the senses, the poetry of Keats will come near to realizing our ideal. If, on the other hand, we believe that the highest and truest poetry, while possessing this beauty, adds to it a beauty more purely spiritual, a teaching and uplifting power, and an element of thought, we shall find Keats' poetry distinctly insufficient for our highest moods. Supreme in one province, he is grievously lacking in the highest aspirations, in spirituality, and in the ardor for right and truth. Apparently devoid of a religious sense, his perception of beauty grows less sensitive as beauty becomes less physical and more abstract. Back of the work of the greatest poets we recognize tremendous force which comes from the whole mind and nature of the man. Keats' poetry, beautiful within its limits, is circumscribed by the serious limitations of Keats himself.
His Poetic Limitations. — It is possible that the shortcomings of Keats are the result of immaturity, and that, had he lived, his genius would have declared itself in other ways. What he might have done is matter for
conjecture; but we know that his later poems are not immature but highly finished, and it is clear that his advance toward a poetry of moral and philosophic thought would only have been gained by a radical change in his views of poetry, and by not so much a growth as a total making over of the man himself. Judging him by what he has done, we are constrained; unless we adopt his views of poetry, to admire with certain reservations. His poetry is the song of the Sirens. It is weakened by a strain of effeminacy; and its atmosphere, often heavy as with sweet and cloying odors, is deliciously relaxing. We miss in it the manly vigor of those mountain heights where, as in Wordsworth or Shelley, the air is pure and clear. We should lose much were we unable to yield ourselves to that spell of warm and abundant loveliness of which Keats is master, but if we rejoice in the life-giving air that blows on the high altitudes of poetry, we will not drift into that unthinking or wholesale adulation in which lovers of Keats are apt to indulge. The motto from his master Spenser which Keats prefixed to Endymion is the index to the spirit of all his work; it expresses Keats' ideal, but we may question whether that ideal is the highest :
“What more felicity can fall to creature
Methodists appear in London
1738 1757 1757 1759 1770
Early romantic works.
1725 JAMES THOMSON's The Seasons
. 1726–1730 WILLIAM COLLINS' Odes
1746 Thomas GRAY's Elegy in a Country Churchyard
1751 DAVID GARRICK plays Shakespeare's plays in London 1741-1776 SAMUEL JOHNSON, “The Great Cham of Literature" 1709-1784 Dictionary of the English Language
1755 Lives of the Poets
. 1779 1781 OLIVER GOLDSMITH's Deserted Village
1770 George III.
1760-1820 Watt invents the steam-engine
1765 EDMUND BURKE's Speech on Conciliation with America
1775 American Declaration of Independence
1776 Later eighteenth-century romantic writers. WILLIAM COWPER, The Task
1785 ROBERT BURNS, Poems
1786 WILLIAM WORDSWORTH
.1770-1850 SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
1772–1834 Wordsworth and Coleridge publish Lyrical Ballads
1798 Early nineteenth-century romantic writers. SIR WALTER Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel
1805 The Waverley novels.
.1814–1831 LORD BYRON, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
.1812–1818 PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, Poems
1813–1822 JOHN KEATS, Poems .
1817-1820 Prose-writers. CHARLES LAMB's Essays of Elia
1822–1833 THOMAS DE QUINCEY's Confessions of an English Opium Eater
J. J. Rousseau
1694-1778 1712–1778 1789–1795 1793–1794
THE VICTORIAN AGE
The year 1832, which saw the death of Sir Walter Scott and the beginning of a more democratic system of government by the passage of a law known as the first Reform Bill, may be taken as a convenient date for the beginning of the Victorian age. Queen Victoria, it is true, did not come to the throne until a few years later (1837), but it will help us to understand the remarkable era which bears her name, if we begin our study of it a short time before her reign actually began.
This period, from 1832 to 1901, was above all a time of sudden and startling changes. In the Victorian age, Englishmen, whether rich or poor, educated or ignorant, were giving up old ways of living and thinking, and adopting new. These sweeping changes, which altered the daily life in almost every household, affected different men in very different ways. Many were filled with hope and exaltation, believing that a new and better age was at hand; some clung desperately to the old ways, and looked at the new with distrust and gloomy forebodings. Still others, bewildered and doubtful, drifted helplessly, uncertain what to do or to believe. This effort of the nation to adjust itself to new conditions, made the Victorian era a time of conflicting opinion, uncertainty, and unrest.
Many things may have combined to bring about this wide-spread passion for change, but two only need be