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The burst of creative activity at the opening of the 19th century has but one parallel in English literary history, namely, the somewhat similar flowering out of the national genius in the time of Elizabeth and the first two Stuart kings. The later age gave birth to no supreme poets, like Shakespeare and Milton. It produced no Hamlet and no Paradise Lost; but it offers a greater number of important writers, a higher average of excellence, and a wider range and variety of literary work than any preceding era. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats are all great names; while Southey, Landor, Moore, Lamb, and De Quincey would be noteworthy figures at any period, and deserve a fuller mention than can be here accorded them. But in so crowded a generation, selection becomes increasingly needful, and in the present chapter, accordingly, the emphasis will be laid upon the first-named group as not only the most important, but the most representative of the various tendencies of their time.
The conditions of literary work in this century have been almost unduly stimulating. The rapid advance in population, wealth, education, and the means of communication has vastly increased the number of readers. Every one who has any thing to say can say it in print, and is sure of some sort of a hearing. A special feature of the time is the multiplication of periodicals. The great London dailies, like the Times and the Morning Post, which were started during the last quarter of the 18th century, were something quite new in journalism. The first of the modern reviews, the Edinburgh, was established in 1802, as the organ of the Whig party in Scotland. This was followed by the London Quarterly, in 1808, and by Blackwood's Magazine, in 1817, both in the Tory interest. The first editor of the Edinburgh was Francis Jeffrey, who assembled about him a distinguished corps of contributors, including the versatile Henry Brougham, afterward a great parliamentary orator and lord chancellor of England, and the Rev. Sydney Smith, whose witty sayings are still current. The first editor of the Quarterly was William Gifford, a satirist, who wrote the Baviad and Mæviad ridicule of literary affectations. He was succeeded in 1824 by John Gibson Lockhart, the son-in-law of Walter Scott, and the author of an excellent Life of Scott. Blackwood's was edited by John Wilson, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, who, under the pen-name of "Christopher North," contributed to his magazine a series of brilliant imaginary dialogues between famous characters of the day, entitled Noctes Ambrosianæ, because they were supposed to take place at Ambrose's tavern in Edinburgh. These papers were full of a profuse, headlong eloquence, of humor, literary criticism, and personalities interspersed with songs expressive of a roystering and convivial Toryism and an uproarious contempt for Whigs and cockneys. These reviews and magazines, and others which sprang up beside them, became the nuclei about which the wit and scholarship of both parties gathered. Political controversy under the Regency and the reign of George IV. was thus carried on more regularly by permanent organs, and no longer so largely by privateering, in the shape of pamphlets, like Swift's Public Spirit of the Allies, Johnson's Taxation No Tyranny, and Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Nor did politics by any means usurp the columns of the reviews. Literature, art, science, the whole circle of human effort and achievement passed under review. Blackwood's, Fraser's, and the other monthlies published stories, poetry, criticism, and correspondence—every thing, in short, which enters into the make-up of our magazines to-day, except illustrations.
Two main influences, of foreign origin, have left their trace in the English writers of the first thirty years of the 19th century, the one communicated by contact with the new German literature of the latter half of the 18th century, and in particular with the writings of Goethe, Schiller, and Kant; the other springing from the events of the French Revolution. The influence of German upon English literature in the 19th century was more intellectual and less formal than that of the Italian in the 16th and of the French in the 18th. In other words, the German writers furnished the English with ideas and ways of feeling rather than with models of style. Goethe and Schiller did not become subjects for literary imitation as Molière, Racine, and Boileau had become in Pope's time. It was reserved for a later generation and for Thomas Carlyle to domesticate the diction of German prose. But the nature and extent of this influence can, perhaps, best be noted when we come to take up the authors of the time one by one.
The excitement caused by the French Revolution was something more obvious and immediate. When the Bastile fell, in 1789, the enthusiasm among the friends of liberty and human progress in England was hardly less intense than in France. It was the dawn of a new day; the shackles were stricken from the slave; all men were free and all men were brothers, and radical young England sent up a shout that echoed the roar of the Paris mob. Wordsworth's lines on the Fall of the Bastile, Coleridge's Fall of Robespierre and Ode to France, and Southey's revolutionary drama, Wat Tyler, gave expression to the hopes and aspirations of the English democracy. In after life, Wordsworth, looking back regretfully to those years of promise, wrote his poem on the French Revolution as it Appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive;
But to be young was very heaven. O times
In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance.
Those were the days in which Wordsworth, then an under-graduate at Cambridge, spent a college vacation in tramping through France, landing at Calais on the eve of the very day (July 14, 1790) on which Louis XVI. signalized the anniversary of the fall of the Bastile by taking the oath of fidelity to the new constitution. In the following year Wordsworth revisited France, where he spent thirteen months, forming an intimacy with the republican general, Beaupuis, at Orleans, and reaching Paris not long after the September massacres of 1792. Those were the days, too, in which young Southey and young Coleridge, having married sisters at Bristol, were planning a "Pantisocracy," or ideal community, on the banks of the Susquehannah, and denouncing the British government for going to war with the French Republic. This group of poets, who had met one another first in the south of England, came afterward to be called the Lake Poets, from their residence in the mountainous lake country of Westmoreland and Cumberland, with which their names, and that of Wordsworth, especially, are forever associated. The so-called "Lakers" did not, properly speaking, constitute a school of poetry. They differed greatly from one another in mind and art. But they were connected by social ties and by religious and political sympathies. The excesses of the French Revolution, and the usurpation of Napoleon disappointed them, as it did many other English liberals, and drove them into the ranks of the reactionaries. Advancing years brought conservatism, and they became in time loyal Tories and orthodox churchmen.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), the chief of the three, and, perhaps, on the whole, the greatest English poet since Milton, published his Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The volume contained a few pieces by his friend Coleridge—among them the Ancient Mariner—and its appearance may fairly be said to mark an epoch in the history of English poetry. Wordsworth regarded himself as a reformer of poetry; and in the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, he defended the theory on which they were composed. His innovations were twofold: in subject-matter and in diction. "The principal object which I proposed to myself in these poems," he said, "was to choose incidents and situations from common life. Low and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity ... and are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." Wordsworth discarded, in theory, the poetic diction of his predecessors, and professed to use "a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation." He adopted, he said, the language of men in rustic life, "because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived."
In the matter of poetic diction Wordsworth did not, in his practice, adhere to the doctrine of this preface. Many of his most admired poems, such as the Lines written near Tintern Abbey, the great Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, the Sonnets, and many parts of his longest poems, The Excursion and The Prelude, deal with philosophic thought and highly intellectualized emotions. In all of these and in many others the language is rich, stately, involved, and as remote from the "real language" of Westmoreland shepherds as is the epic blank verse of Milton. On the other hand, in those of his poems which were consciously written in illustration of his theory, the affectation of simplicity, coupled with a defective sense of humor, sometimes led him to the selection of vulgar and trivial themes, and the use of language which is bald, childish, or even ludicrous. His simplicity is too often the simplicity of Mother Goose rather than of Chaucer. Instances of this occur in such poems as Peter Bell, the Idiot Boy, Goody Blake and Harry Gill, Simon Lee, and the Wagoner. But there are multitudes of Wordsworth's ballads and lyrics which are simple without being silly, and which, in their homeliness and clear profundity, in their production of the strongest effects by the fewest strokes, are among the choicest modern examples of pure, as distinguished from decorated, art. Such are (out of many) Ruth, Lucy, She was a Phantom of Delight, To a Highland Girl, The Reverie of Poor Susan, To the Cuckoo, The Solitary Reaper, We Are Seven, The Pet Lamb, The Fountain, The Two April Mornings, Resolution and Independence, The Thorn, and Yarrow Unvisited.
Wordsworth was something of a Quaker in poetry, and loved the sober drabs and grays of life. Quietism was his literary religion, and the sensational was to him not merely vulgar, but almost wicked. "The human mind," he wrote, "is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants." He disliked the far-fetched themes and high-colored style of Scott and Byron. He once told Landor that all of Scott's poetry together was not worth sixpence. From action and passion he turned away to sing the inward life of the soul and the outward life of nature. He said:
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Long have I loved what I behold.
The night that charms, the day that cheers;
The common growth of mother earth
Suffices me—her tears, her mirth,
Her humblest mirth and tears.
Wordsworth's life was outwardly uneventful. The companionship of the mountains and of his own thoughts, the sympathy of his household, the lives of the dalesmen and cottagers about him furnished him with all the stimulus that he required.
Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His only teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
He read little, but reflected much, and made poetry daily, composing, by preference, out of doors, and dictating his verses to some member of his family. His favorite amanuensis was his sister Dorothy, a woman of fine gifts, to whom Wordsworth was indebted for some of his happiest inspirations. Her charming Memorials of a Tour in the Scottish Highlands records the origin of many of her brother's best poems. Throughout life Wordsworth was remarkably self-centered. The ridicule of the reviewers, against which he gradually made his way to public recognition, never disturbed his serene belief in himself, or in the divine message which he felt himself commissioned to deliver. He was a slow and serious person, a preacher as well as a poet, with a certain rigidity, not to say narrowness, of character. That plastic temperament which we associate with poetic genius Wordsworth either did not possess, or it hardened early. Whole sides of life were beyond the range of his sympathies. He touched life at fewer points than Byron and Scott, but touched it more profoundly. It is to him that we owe the phrase "plain living and high thinking," as also a most noble illustration of it in his own practice. His was the wisest and deepest spirit among the English poets of his generation, though hardly the most poetic. He wrote too much, and, attempting to make every petty incident or reflection the occasion of a poem, he finally reached the point of composing verses On Seeing a Harp in the shape of a Needle Case, and on other themes more worthy of Mrs. Sigourney. In parts of his long blank-verse poems, The Excursion, 1814, and The Prelude—which was printed after his death in 1850, though finished as early as 1806—the poetry wears very thin and its place is taken by prosaic, tedious didacticism. These two poems were designed as portions of a still more extended work, The Recluse, which was never completed. The Excursion consists mainly of philosophical discussions on nature and human life between a school-master, a solitary, and an itinerant peddler. The Prelude describes the development of Wordsworth's own genius. In parts of The Excursion the diction is fairly Shaksperian:
The good die first,
And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust
Burn to the socket;
a passage not only beautiful in itself but dramatically true, in the mouth of the bereaved mother who utters it, to that human instinct which generalizes a private sorrow into a universal law. Much of The Prelude can hardly be called poetry at all, yet some of Wordsworth's loftiest poetry is buried among its dreary wastes, and now and then, in the midst of commonplaces, comes a flash of Miltonic splendor—like
Golden cities ten months' journey deep
Among Tartarian wilds.
Wordsworth is, above all things, the poet of nature. In this province he was not without forerunners. To say nothing of Burns and Cowper, there was George Crabbe, who had published his Village in 1783—fifteen years before the Lyrical Ballads—and whose last poem, Tales of the Hall, came out in 1819, five years after The Excursion. Byron called Crabbe "Nature's sternest painter, and her best." He was a minutely accurate delineator of the harsher aspects of rural life. He photographs a Gypsy camp; a common, with its geese and donkey; a salt marsh, a shabby village street, or tumble-down manse. But neither Crabbe nor Cowper has the imaginative lift of Wordsworth,
The light that never was, on sea or land,
The consecration, and the poet's dream.
In a note on a couplet in one of his earliest poems, descriptive of an oak-tree standing dark against the sunset, Wordsworth says: "I recollect distinctly the very spot where this struck me. The moment was important in my poetical history, for I date from it my consciousness of the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country, and I made a resolution to supply, in some degree, the deficiency." In later life he is said to have been impatient of any thing spoken or written by another about mountains, conceiving himself to have a monopoly of "the power of hills." But Wordsworth did not stop with natural description. Matthew Arnold has said that the office of modern poetry is the "moral interpretation of Nature." Such, at any rate, was Wordsworth's office. To him Nature was alive and divine. He felt, under the veil of phenomena,
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thought: a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused.
He approached, if he did not actually reach, the view of pantheism which identifies God with Nature; and the mysticism of the Idealists, who identify Nature with the soul of man. This tendency was not inspired in Wordsworth by German philosophy. He was no metaphysician. In his rambles with Coleridge about Nether Stowey and Alfoxden, when both were young, they had, indeed, discussed Spinoza. And in the autumn of 1798, after the publication of the Lyrical Ballads, the two friends went together to Germany, where Wordsworth spent half a year. But the literature and philosophy of Germany made little direct impression upon Wordsworth. He disliked Goethe, and he quoted with approval the saying of the poet Klopstock, whom he met at Hamburg, that he placed the romanticist Bürger above both Goethe and Schiller.
It was through Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), who was pre-eminently the thinker among the literary men of his generation, that the new German thought found its way into England. During the fourteen months which he spent in Germany—chiefly at Ratzburg and Göttingen—he had familiarized himself with the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of his continuators, Fichte and Schelling, as well as with the general literature of Germany. On his return to England, he published, in 1800, a free translation of Schiller's Wallenstein, and through his writings, and more especially through his conversations, he became the conductor by which German philosophic ideas reached the English literary class.
Coleridge described himself as being from boyhood a bookworm and a day-dreamer. He remained through life an omnivorous, though unsystematic, reader. He was helpless in practical affairs, and his native indolence and procrastination were increased by his indulgence in the opium habit. On his return to England, in 1800, he went to reside at Keswick, in the Lake Country, with his brother-in-law, Southey, whose industry supported both families. During his last nineteen years Coleridge found an asylum under the roof of Mr. James Gilman, of Highgate, near London, whither many of the best young men in England were accustomed to resort to listen to Coleridge's wonderful talk. Talk, indeed, was the medium through which he mainly influenced his generation. It cost him an effort to put his thoughts on paper. His Table Talk—crowded with pregnant paragraphs—was taken down from his lips by his nephew, Henry Coleridge. His criticisms of Shakespeare are nothing but notes, made here and there, from a course of lectures delivered before the Royal Institute, and never fully written out. Though only hints and suggestions, they are, perhaps, the most penetrative and helpful Shaksperian criticisms in English. He was always forming projects and abandoning them. He projected a great work on Christian philosophy, which was to have been his magnum opus, but he never wrote it. He projected an epic poem on the fall of Jerusalem. "I schemed it at twenty-five," he said, "but, alas! venturum expectat." What bade fair to be his best poem, Christabel, is a fragment. Another strangely beautiful poem, Kubla Khan—which came to him, he said, in sleep—is even more fragmentary. And the most important of his prose remains, his Biographia Literaria, 1817, a history of his own opinions, breaks off abruptly.
It was in his suggestiveness that Coleridge's great service to posterity resided. He was what J.S. Mill called a "seminal mind," and his thought had that power of stimulating thought in others which is the mark and the privilege of original genius. Many a man has owed to some sentence of Coleridge's, if not the awakening in himself of a new intellectual life, at least the starting of fruitful trains of reflection which have modified his whole view of certain great subjects. On every thing that he left is set the stamp of high mental authority. He was not, perhaps, primarily, he certainly was not exclusively, a poet. In theology, in philosophy, in political thought and literary criticism he set currents flowing which are flowing yet. The terminology of criticism, for example, is in his debt for many of those convenient distinctions—such as that between genius and talent, between wit and humor, between fancy and imagination—which are familiar enough now, but which he first introduced or enforced. His definitions and apothegms we meet every-where. Such are, for example, the sayings: "Every man is born an Aristotelian or a Platonist." "Prose is words in their best order; poetry, the best words in the best order." And among the bits of subtle interpretation that abound in his writings may be mentioned his estimate of Wordsworth, in the Biographia Literaria, and his sketch of Hamlet's character—one with which he was personally in strong sympathy—in the Lectures on Shakespeare.
The Broad Church party, in the English Church, among whose most eminent exponents have been W. Frederic Robertson, Arnold of Rugby, F.D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley, and the late Dean Stanley, traces its intellectual origin to Coleridge's Aids to Reflection, to his writings and conversations in general, and particularly to his ideal of a national clerisy, as set forth in his essay on Church and State. In politics, as in religion, Coleridge's conservatism represents the reaction against the destructive spirit of the 18th century and the French Revolution. To this root-and-branch democracy he opposed the view that every old belief, or institution, such as the throne or the Church, had served some need, and had a rational idea at the bottom of it, to which it might be again recalled, and made once more a benefit to society, instead of a curse and an anachronism.
As a poet, Coleridge has a sure, though slender, hold upon immortal fame. No English poet has "sung so wildly well" as the singer of Christabel and the Ancient Mariner. The former of these is, in form, a romance in a variety of meters, and in substance, a tale of supernatural possession, by which a lovely and innocent maiden is brought under the control of a witch. Though unfinished and obscure in intention, it haunts the imagination with a mystic power. Byron had seen Christabel in manuscript, and urged Coleridge to publish it. He hated all the "Lakers," but when, on parting from Lady Byron, he wrote his song,
Fare thee well, and if forever,
Still forever fare thee well,
he prefixed to it the noble lines from Coleridge's poem, beginning
Alas! they had been friends in youth.
In that weird ballad, the Ancient Mariner, the supernatural is handled with even greater subtlety than in Christabel. The reader is led to feel that amid the loneliness of the tropic-sea the line between the earthly and the unearthly vanishes, and the poet leaves him to discover for himself whether the spectral shapes that the mariner saw were merely the visions of the calenture, or a glimpse of the world of spirits. Coleridge is one of our most perfect metrists. The poet Swinburne—than whom there can be no higher authority on this point (though he is rather given to exaggeration)—pronounces Kubla Khan, "for absolute melody and splendor, the first poem in the language."
Robert Southey, the third member of this group, was a diligent worker, and one of the most voluminous of English writers. As a poet, he was lacking in inspiration, and his big oriental epics, Thalaba, 1801, and the Curse of Kehama, 1810, are little better than wax-work. Of his numerous works in prose, the Life of Nelson is, perhaps, the best, and is an excellent biography.
Several other authors were more or less closely associated with the Lake Poets by residence or social affiliation. John Wilson, the editor of Blackwood's, lived for some time, when a young man, at Elleray, on the banks of Windermere. He was an athletic man of outdoor habits, an enthusiastic sportsman, and a lover of natural scenery. His admiration of Wordsworth was thought to have led him to imitation of the latter, in his Isle of Palms, 1812, and his other poetry.
One of Wilson's companions, in his mountain walks, was Thomas De Quincey, who had been led by his reverence for Wordsworth and Coleridge to take up his residence, in 1808, at Grasmere, where he occupied for many years the cottage from which Wordsworth had removed to Allan Bank. De Quincey was a shy, bookish man, of erratic, nocturnal habits, who impresses one, personally, as a child of genius, with a child's helplessness and a child's sharp observation. He was, above all things, a magazinist. All his writings, with one exception, appeared first in the shape of contributions to periodicals; and his essays, literary criticisms, and miscellaneous papers are exceedingly rich and varied. The most famous of them was his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, published as a serial in the London Magazine, in 1821. He had begun to take opium, as a cure for the toothache, when a student at Oxford, where he resided from 1803 to 1808. By 1816 he had risen to eight thousand drops of laudanum a day. For several years after this he experienced the acutest misery, and his will suffered an entire paralysis. In 1821 he succeeded in reducing his dose to a comparatively small allowance, and in shaking off his torpor so as to become capable of literary work. The most impressive effect of the opium habit was seen in his dreams, in the unnatural expansion of space and time, and the infinite repetition of the same objects. His sleep was filled with dim, vast images; measureless cavalcades deploying to the sound of orchestral music; an endless succession of vaulted halls, with staircases climbing to heaven, up which toiled eternally the same solitary figure. "Then came sudden alarms, hurrying to and fro; trepidations of innumerable fugitives; darkness and light; tempest and human faces." Many of De Quincey's papers were autobiographical, but there is always something baffling in these reminiscences. In the interminable wanderings of his pen—for which, perhaps, opium was responsible—he appears to lose all trace of facts or of any continuous story. Every actual experience of his life seems to have been taken up into a realm of dream, and there distorted till the reader sees not the real figures, but the enormous, grotesque shadows of them, executing wild dances on a screen. An instance of this process is described by himself in his Vision of Sudden Death. But his unworldliness and faculty of vision-seeing were not inconsistent with the keenness of judgment and the justness and delicacy of perception displayed in his Biographical Sketches of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and other contemporaries: in his critical papers on Pope, Milton, Lessing, Homer and the Homeridæ: his essay on Style; and his Brief Appraisal of the Greek Literature. His curious scholarship is seen in his articles on the Toilet of a Hebrew Lady, and the Casuistry of Roman Meals; his ironical and somewhat elaborate humor in his essay on Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. Of his narrative pieces the most remarkable is his Revolt of the Tartars, describing the flight of a Kalmuck tribe of six hundred thousand souls from Russia to the Chinese frontier: a great hegira or anabasis, which extended for four thousand miles over desert steppes infested with foes, occupied six months' time, and left nearly half of the tribe dead upon the way. The subject was suited to De Quincey's imagination. It was like one of his own opium visions, and he handled it with a dignity and force which make the history not altogether unworthy of comparison with Thucydides's great chapter on the Sicilian Expedition.
An intimate friend of Southey was Walter Savage Landor, a man of kingly nature, of a leonine presence, with a most stormy and unreasonable temper, and yet with the courtliest graces of manner, and with—said Emerson—"a wonderful brain, despotic, violent, and inexhaustible." He inherited wealth, and lived a great part of his life at Florence, where he died in 1864, in his ninetieth year. Dickens, who knew him at Bath, in the latter part of his life, made a kindly caricature of him as Lawrence Boythorn, in Bleak House, whose "combination of superficial ferocity and inherent tenderness," testifies Henry Crabb Robinson, in his Diary, was true to the life. Landor is the most purely classical of English writers. Not merely his themes, but his whole way of thinking was pagan and antique. He composed indifferently in English or Latin, preferring the latter, if any thing, in obedience to his instinct for compression and exclusiveness. Thus, portions of his narrative poem, Gebir, 1798, were written originally in Latin and he added a Latin version, Gebirius, to the English edition. In like manner his Hellenics, 1847, were mainly translations from his Latin Idyllia Heroica, written years before. The Hellenic clearness and repose which were absent from his life, Landor sought in his art. His poems, in their restraint, their objectivity, their aloofness from modern feeling, have something chill and artificial. The verse of poets like Byron and Wordsworth is alive; the blood runs in it. But Landor's polished, clean-cut intaglios have been well described as "written in marble." He was a master of fine and solid prose. His Pericles and Aspasia consists of a series of letters passing between the great Athenian demagogue; the hetaira, Aspasia; her friend, Cleone of Miletus; Anaxagorus, the philosopher, and Pericles's nephew, Alcibiades. In this masterpiece, the intellectual life of Athens, at its period of highest refinement, is brought before the reader with singular vividness, and he is made to breathe an atmosphere of high-bred grace, delicate wit, and thoughtful sentiment, expressed in English "of Attic choice." The Imaginary Conversations, 1824-1846, were Platonic dialogues between a great variety of historical characters; between, for example, Dante and Beatrice, Washington and Franklin, Queen Elizabeth and Cecil, Xenophon and Cyrus the Younger, Bonaparte and the president of the Senate. Landor's writings have never been popular; they address an aristocracy of scholars; and Byron—whom Landor disliked and considered vulgar—sneered at him as a writer who "cultivated much private renown in the shape of Latin verses." He said of himself that he "never contended with a contemporary, but walked alone on the far Eastern uplands, meditating and remembering."
A school-mate of Coleridge at Christ's Hospital, and his friend and correspondent through life, was Charles Lamb, one of the most charming of English essayists. He was a bachelor, who lived alone with his sister Mary, a lovable and intellectual woman, but subject to recurring attacks of madness. Lamb was "a notched and cropped scrivener, a votary of the desk;" a clerk, that is, in the employ of the East India Company. He was of antiquarian tastes, an ardent playgoer, a lover of whist and of the London streets; and these tastes are reflected in his Essays of Elia, contributed to the London Magazine and reprinted in book form in 1823. From his mousing among the Elizabethan dramatists and such old humorists as Burton and Fuller, his own style imbibed a peculiar quaintness and pungency. His Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, 1808, is admirable for its critical insight. In 1802 he paid a visit to Coleridge at Keswick, in the Lake Country; but he felt or affected a whimsical horror of the mountains, and said, "Fleet Street and the Strand are better to live in." Among the best of his essays are Dream Children, Poor Relations, The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century, Old China, Roast Pig, A Defense of Chimney Sweeps, A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis, and The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.
The romantic movement, preluded by Gray, Collins, Chatterton, Macpherson, and others, culminated in Walter Scott (1721-1832). His passion for the mediæval was excited by reading Percy's Reliques when he was a boy; and in one of his school themes he maintained that Ariosto was a greater poet than Homer. He began early to collect manuscript ballads, suits of armor, pieces of old plate, border-horns, and similar relics. He learned Italian in order to read the romancers—Ariosto, Tasso, Pulci, and Boiardo—preferring them to Dante. He studied Gothic architecture, heraldry, and the art of fortification, and made drawings of famous ruins and battle-fields. In particular he read eagerly every thing that he could lay hands on relating to the history, legends, and antiquities of the Scottish border—the vale of Tweed, Teviotdale, Ettrick Forest, and the Yarrow, of all which land he became the laureate, as Burns had been of Ayrshire and the "West Country." Scott, like Wordsworth, was an outdoor poet. He spent much time in the saddle, and was fond of horses, dogs, hunting, and salmon-fishing. He had a keen eye for the beauties of natural scenery, though "more especially," he admits, "when combined with ancient ruins or remains of our forefathers' piety or splendor." He had the historic imagination, and, in creating the historical novel, he was the first to throw a poetic glamour over European annals. In 1803 Wordsworth visited Scott at Lasswade, near Edinburgh; and Scott afterward returned the visit at Grasmere. Wordsworth noted that his guest was "full of anecdote, and averse from disquisition." The Englishman was a moralist and much given to "disquisition," while the Scotchman was, above all things, a raconteur, and, perhaps, on the whole, the foremost of British story-tellers. Scott's Toryism, too, was of a different stripe from Wordsworth's, being rather the result of sentiment and imagination than of philosophy and reflection. His mind struck deep root in the past; his local attachments and family pride were intense. Abbotsford was his darling, and the expenses of this domain and of the baronial hospitality which he there extended to all comers were among the causes of his bankruptcy. The enormous toil which he exacted of himself, to pay off the debt of £117,000, contracted by the failure of his publishers, cost him his life. It is said that he was more gratified when the Prince Regent created him a baronet, in 1820, than by the public recognition that he acquired as the author of the Waverley Novels.
Scott was attracted by the romantic side of German literature. His first published poem was a translation made in 1796 from Bürger's wild ballad, Leonora. He followed this up with versions of the same poet's Wilde Jäger, of Goethe's violent drama of feudal life, Götz Von Berlichingen, and with other translations from the German, of a similar class. On his horseback trips through the border, where he studied the primitive manners of the Liddesdale people, and took down old ballads from the recitation of ancient dames and cottagers, he amassed the materials for his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1802. But the first of his original poems was the Lay of the Last Minstrel, published in 1805, and followed, in quick sucession by Marmion, the Lady of the Lake, Rokeby, the Lord of the Isles, and a volume of ballads and lyrical pieces, all issued during the years 1806-1814. The popularity won by this series of metrical romances was immediate and wide-spread. Nothing so fresh or so brilliant had appeared in English poetry for nearly two centuries. The reader was hurried along through scenes of rapid action, whose effect was heightened by wild landscapes and picturesque manners. The pleasure was a passive one. There was no deep thinking to perplex, no subtler beauties to pause upon; the feelings were stirred pleasantly, but not deeply; the effect was on the surface. The spell employed was novelty—or, at most, wonder—and the chief emotion aroused was breathless interest in the progress of the story. Carlyle said that Scott's genius was in extenso, rather than in intenso, and that its great praise was its healthiness. This is true of his verse, but not altogether so of his prose, which exhibits deeper qualities. Some of Scott's most perfect poems, too, are his shorter ballads, like Jock o' Hazeldean, and Proud Maisie is in the Wood, which have a greater intensity and compression than his metrical tales.
From 1814 to 1831 Scott wrote and published the Waverley novels, some thirty in number; if we consider the amount of work done, the speed with which it was done, and the general average of excellence maintained, perhaps the most marvelous literary feat on record. The series was issued anonymously, and takes its name from the first number: Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since. This was founded upon the rising of the clans, in 1745, in support of the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, and it revealed to the English public that almost foreign country which lay just across their threshold, the Scottish Highlands. The Waverley novels remain, as a whole, unequaled as historical fiction, although here and there a single novel, like George Eliot's Romola, or Thackeray's Henry Esmond, or Kingsley's Hypatia, may have attained a place beside the best of them. They were a novelty when they appeared. English prose fiction had somewhat declined since the time of Fielding and Goldsmith. There were truthful, though rather tame, delineations of provincial life, like Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, 1811, and Pride and Prejudice, 1813; or Maria Edgeworth's Popular Tales, 1804. On the other hand, there were Gothic romances, like the Monk of Matthew Gregory Lewis, to whose Tales of Wonder some of Scott's translations from the German had been contributed; or like Anne Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. The great original of this school of fiction was Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, 1765; an absurd tale of secret trap-doors, subterranean vaults, apparitions of monstrous mailed figures and colossal helmets, pictures that descend from their frames, and hollow voices that proclaim the ruin of ancient families.
Scott used the machinery of romance, but he was not merely a romancer, or an historical novelist even, and it is not, as Carlyle implies, the buff-belts and jerkins which principally interest us in his heroes. Ivanhoe and Kenilworth and the Talisman are, indeed, romances pure and simple, and very good romances at that. But, in novels such as Rob Roy, the Antiquary, the Heart of Midlothian, and the Bride of Lammermoor, Scott drew from contemporary life, and from his intimate knowledge of Scotch character. The story is there, with its entanglement of plot and its exciting adventures, but there are also, as truly as in Shakespeare, though not in the same degree, the observation of life, the knowledge of men, the power of dramatic creation. No writer awakens in his readers a warmer personal affection than Walter Scott, the brave, honest, kindly gentleman; the noblest figure among the literary men of his generation.
Another Scotch poet was Thomas Campbell, whose Pleasures of Hope, 1799, was written in Pope's couplet, and in the stilted diction of the 18th century. Gertrude of Wyoming, 1809, a long narrative poem in Spenserian stanza, is untrue to the scenery and life of Pennsylvania, where its scene is laid. But Campbell turned his rhetorical manner and his clanking, martial verse to fine advantage in such pieces as Hohenlinden, Ye Mariners of England, and the Battle of the Baltic. These have the true lyric fire, and rank among the best English war-songs.
When Scott was asked why he had left off writing poetry, he answered, "Byron bet me." George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was a young man of twenty-four when, on his return from a two years' sauntering through Portugal, Spain, Albania, Greece, and the Levant, he published, in the first two cantos of Childe Harold, 1812, a sort of poetic itinerary of his experiences and impressions. The poem took, rather to its author's surprise, who said that he woke one morning and found himself famous. Childe Harold opened a new field to poetry: the romance of travel, the picturesque aspects of foreign scenery, manners, and costumes. It is instructive of the difference between the two ages, in poetic sensibility to such things, to compare Byron's glowing imagery with Addison's tame Letter from Italy, written a century before. Childe Harold was followed by a series of metrical tales, the Giaour, the Bride of Abydos, the Corsair, Lara, the Siege of Corinth, Parisina, and the Prisoner of Chillon, all written in the years 1813-1816. These poems at once took the place of Scott's in popular interest, dazzling a public that had begun to weary of chivalry romances with pictures of Eastern life, with incidents as exciting as Scott's, descriptions as highly colored, and a much greater intensity of passion. So far as they depended for this interest upon the novelty of their accessories, the effect was a temporary one. Seraglios, divans, bulbuls, Gulistans, Zuleikas, and other oriental properties deluged English poetry for a time, and then subsided; even as the tide of moss-troopers, sorcerers, hermits, and feudal castles had already had its rise and fall.
But there was a deeper reason for the impression made by Byron's poetry upon his contemporaries. He laid his finger right on the sore spot in modern life. He had the disease with which the time was sick, the world-weariness, the desperation which proceeded from "passion incapable of being converted into action." We find this tone in much of the literature which followed the failure of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. From the irritations of that period, the disappointment of high hopes for the future of the race, the growing religious disbelief, and the revolt of democracy and free thought against conservative reaction, sprang what Southey called the "Satanic school," which spoke its loudest word in Byron. Titanic is the better word, for the rebellion was not against God, but Jupiter; that is, against the State, Church, and society of Byron's day; against George III., the Tory cabinet of Lord Castlereagh, the Duke of Wellington, the bench of bishops, London gossip, the British constitution, and British cant. In these poems of Byron, and in his dramatic experiments, Manfred and Cain, there is a single figure—the figure of Byron under various masks—and one pervading mood, a restless and sardonic gloom, a weariness of life, a love of solitude, and a melancholy exaltation in the presence of the wilderness and the sea. Byron's hero is always represented as a man originally noble, whom some great wrong, by others, or some mysterious crime of his own, has blasted and embittered, and who carries about the world a seared heart and a somber brow. Harold—who may stand as a type of all his heroes—has run "through sin's labyrinth," and feeling the "fullness of satiety," is drawn abroad to roam, "the wandering exile of his own dark mind." The loss of a capacity for pure, unjaded emotion is the constant burden of Byron's lament;
No more, no more, O never more on me
The freshness of the heart shall fall like dew:
O could I feel as I have felt—or be what I have been,
Or weep as I could once have wept, o'er many a vanished scene;
As springs in deserts found seem sweet, all brackish tho' they be,
So, midst the withered waste of life, those tears would flow to me.
This mood was sincere in Byron; but by cultivating it, and posing too long in one attitude, he became self-conscious and theatrical, and much of his serious poetry has a false ring. His example infected the minor poetry of the time, and it was quite natural that Thackeray—who represented a generation that had a very different ideal of the heroic—should be provoked into describing Byron as "a big sulky dandy."
Byron was well fitted by birth and temperament to be the spokesman of this fierce discontent. He inherited from his mother a haughty and violent temper, and profligate tendencies from his father. He was through life a spoiled child, whose main characteristic was willfulness. He liked to shock people by exaggerating his wickedness, or by perversely maintaining the wrong side of a dispute. But he had traits of bravery and generosity. Women loved him, and he made strong friends. There was a careless charm about him which fascinated natures as unlike each other as Shelley and Scott. By the death of the fifth Lord Byron without issue, Byron came into a title and estates at the age of ten. Though a liberal in politics he had aristocratic feelings, and was vain of his rank as he was of his beauty. He was educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was idle and dissipated, but did a great deal of miscellaneous reading. He took some of his Cambridge set—Hobhouse, Matthews, and others—to Newstead Abbey, his ancestral seat, where they filled the ancient cloisters with eccentric orgies. Byron was strikingly handsome. His face had a spiritual paleness and a classic regularity, and his dark hair curled closely to his head. A deformity in one of his feet was a mortification to him, and impaired his activity in many ways, although he prided himself upon his powers as a swimmer.
In 1815, when at the height of his literary and social éclat in London, he married. In February of the following year he was separated from Lady Byron, and left England forever, pursued by the execrations of outraged respectability. In this chorus of abuse there was mingled a share of cant; but Byron got, on the whole, what he deserved. From Switzerland, where he spent a summer by Lake Leman, with the Shelleys; from Venice, Ravenna, Pisa, and Rome, scandalous reports of his intrigues and his wild debaucheries were wafted back to England, and with these came poem after poem, full of burning genius, pride, scorn, and anguish, and all hurling defiance at English public opinion. The third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold, 1816-1818, were a great advance upon the first two, and contain the best of Byron's serious poetry. He has written his name all over the continent of Europe, and on a hundred memorable spots has made the scenery his own. On the field of Waterloo, on "the castled crag of Drachenfels," "by the blue rushing of the arrowy Rhone," in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, in the Coliseum at Rome, and among the "Isles of Greece," the tourist is compelled to see with Byron's eyes and under the associations of his pilgrimage. In his later poems, such as Beppo, 1818, and Don Juan, 1819-1823, he passed into his second manner, a mocking cynicism gaining ground upon the somewhat stagey gloom of his early poetry—Mephistophiles gradually elbowing out Satan. Don Juan, though morally the worst, is intellectually the most vital and representative of Byron's poems. It takes up into itself most fully the life of the time; exhibits most thoroughly the characteristic alternations of Byron's moods and the prodigal resources of wit, passion, and understanding, which—rather than imagination—were his prominent qualities as a poet. The hero, a graceless, amorous stripling, goes wandering from Spain to the Greek islands and Constantinople, thence to St. Petersburg, and finally to England. Every-where his seductions are successful, and Byron uses him as a means of exposing the weakness of the human heart and the rottenness of society in all countries. In 1823, breaking away from his life of selfish indulgence in Italy, Byron threw himself into the cause of Grecian liberty, which he had sung so gloriously in the Isles of Greece. He died at Missolonghi, in the following year, of a fever contracted by exposure and overwork.
Byron was a great poet but not a great literary artist. He wrote negligently and with the ease of assured strength; his mind gathering heat as it moved, and pouring itself forth in reckless profusion. His work is diffuse and imperfect; much of it is melodrama or speech-making, rather than true poetry. But, on the other hand, much, very much of it is unexcelled as the direct, strong, sincere utterance of personal feeling. Such is the quality of his best lyrics, like When We Two Parted, the Elegy on Thyrza, Stanzas to Augusta, She Walks in Beauty, and of innumerable passages, lyrical and descriptive, in his longer poems. He had not the wisdom of Wordsworth, nor the rich and subtle imagination of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats when they were at their best. But he had greater body and motive force than any of them. He is the strongest personality among English poets since Milton, though his strength was wasted by want of restraint and self-culture. In Milton the passion was there, but it was held in check by the will and the artistic conscience, made subordinate to good ends, ripened by long reflection, and finally uttered in forms of perfect and harmonious beauty. Byron's love of Nature was quite different in kind from Wordsworth's. Of all English poets he has sung most lyrically of that national theme, the sea; as witness, among many other passages, the famous apostrophe to the ocean which closes Childe Harold, and the opening of the third canto in the same poem,
Once more upon the waters, etc.
He had a passion for night and storm, because they made him forget himself.
Most glorious night!
Thou wert not sent for slumber! Let me be
A sharer in thy fierce and far delight,
A portion of the tempest and of thee!
Byron's literary executor and biographer was the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, a born song-writer, whose Irish Melodies, set to old native airs, are, like Burns's, genuine, spontaneous singing, and run naturally to music. Songs such as the Meeting of the Waters, The Harp of Tara, Those Evening Bells, the Light of Other Days, Araby's Daughter, and the Last Rose of Summer were, and still are, popular favorites. Moore's Oriental romance, Lalla Rookh, 1817, is overladen with ornament and with a sugary sentiment that clogs the palate. He had the quick Irish wit, sensibility rather than passion, and fancy rather than imagination.
Byron's friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), was also in fiery revolt against all conventions and institutions, though his revolt proceeded not, as in Byron's case, from the turbulence of passions which brooked no restraint, but rather from an intellectual impatience of any kind of control. He was not, like Byron, a sensual man, but temperate and chaste. He was, indeed, in his life and in his poetry, as nearly a disembodied spirit as a human creature can be. The German poet, Heine, said that liberty was the religion of this century, and of this religion Shelley was a worshiper. His rebellion against authority began early. He refused to fag at Eton, and was expelled from Oxford for publishing a tract on the Necessity of Atheism. At nineteen, he ran away with Harriet Westbrook, and was married to her in Scotland. Three years later he deserted her for Mary Godwin, with whom he eloped to Switzerland. Two years after this his first wife drowned herself in the Serpentine, and Shelley was then formally wedded to Mary Godwin. All this is rather startling, in the bare statement of it, yet it is not inconsistent with the many testimonies that exist to Shelley's singular purity and beauty of character, testimonies borne out by the evidence of his own writings. Impulse with him took the place of conscience. Moral law, accompanied by the sanction of power, and imposed by outside authority, he rejected as a form of tyranny. His nature lacked robustness and ballast. Byron, who was at the bottom intensely practical, said that Shelley's philosophy was too spiritual and romantic. Hazlitt, himself a Radical, wrote of Shelley: "He has a fire in his eye, a fever in his blood, a maggot in his brain, a hectic flutter in his speech, which mark out the philosophic fanatic. He is sanguine-complexioned and shrill-voiced." It was, perhaps, with some recollection of this last-mentioned trait of Shelley the man, that Carlyle wrote of Shelley the poet, that "the sound of him was shrieky," and that he had "filled the earth with an inarticulate wailing."
His career as a poet began, characteristically enough, with the publication, while at Oxford, of a volume of political rimes, entitled Margaret Nicholson's Remains, Margaret Nicholson being the crazy woman who tried to stab George III. His boyish poem, Queen Mab, was published in 1813; Alastor in 1816, and the Revolt of Islam—his longest—in 1818, all before he was twenty-one. These were filled with splendid, though unsubstantial, imagery, but they were abstract in subject, and had the faults of incoherence and formlessness which make Shelley's longer poems wearisome and confusing. They sought to embody his social creed of perfectionism, as well as a certain vague pantheistic system of belief in a spirit of love in nature and man, whose presence is a constant source of obscurity in Shelley's verse. In 1818 he went to Italy, where the last four years of his life were passed, and where, under the influences of Italian art and poetry, his writing became deeper and stronger. He was fond of yachting, and spent much of his time upon the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1822 his boat was swamped in a squall, off the Gulf of Spezzia, and Shelley's drowned body was washed ashore, and burned in the presence of Byron and Leigh Hunt. The ashes were entombed in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, with the epitaph, Cor cordium.
Shelley's best and maturest work, nearly all of which was done in Italy, includes his tragedy, The Cenci, 1819, and his lyrical drama, Prometheus Unbound, 1821. The first of these has a unity and a definiteness of contour unusual with Shelley, and is, with the exception of some of Robert Browning's, the best English tragedy since Otway. Prometheus represented to Shelley's mind the human spirit fighting against divine oppression, and in his portrayal of this figure he kept in mind not only the Prometheus of Aeschylus, but the Satan of Paradise Lost. Indeed, in this poem, Shelley came nearer to the sublime than any English poet since Milton. Yet it is in lyrical, rather than in dramatic, quality that Prometheus Unbound is great. If Shelley be not, as his latest editor, Mr. Forman, claims him to be, the foremost of English lyrical poets, he is at least the most lyrical of them. He had, in a supreme degree, the "lyric cry." His vibrant nature trembled to every breath of emotion, and his nerves craved ever newer shocks; to pant, to quiver, to thrill, to grow faint in the spasm of intense sensation. The feminine cast observable in Shelley's portrait is borne out by this tremulous sensibility in his verse. It is curious how often he uses the metaphor of wings: of the winged spirit, soaring, like his skylark, till lost in music, rapture, light, and then falling back to earth. Three successive moods—longing, ecstasy, and the revulsion of despair—are expressed in many of his lyrics; as in the Hymn to the Spirit of Nature in Prometheus, in the ode To a Skylark, and in the Lines to an Indian Air—Edgar Poe's favorite. His passionate desire to lose himself in Nature, to become one with that spirit of love and beauty in the universe which was to him in place of God, is expressed in the Ode to the West Wind, his most perfect poem:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone
Sweet, though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! be thou me, impetuous one!
In the lyrical pieces already mentioned, together with Adonais, the lines Written in the Euganean Hills, Epipsychidion, Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples, A Dream of the Unknown, and many others, Shelley's lyrical genius reaches a rarer loveliness and a more faultless art than Byron's ever attained, though it lacks the directness and momentum of Byron.
In Shelley's longer poems, intoxicated with the music of his own singing, he abandons himself wholly to the guidance of his imagination, and the verse seems to go on of itself, like the enchanted boat in Alastor, with no one at the helm. Vision succeeds vision in glorious but bewildering profusion; ideal landscapes and cities of cloud "pinnacled dim in the intense inane." These poems are like the water-falls in the Yosemite, which, tumbling from a height of several thousand feet, are shattered into foam by the air, and waved about over the valley. Very beautiful is this descending spray, and the rainbow dwells in its bosom; but there is no longer any stream, nothing but an iridescent mist. The word ethereal best expresses the quality of Shelley's genius. His poetry is full of atmospheric effects; of the tricks which light plays with the fluid elements of water and air; of stars, clouds, rain, dew, mist, frost, wind, the foam of seas, the phases of the moon, the green shadows of waves, the shapes of flames, the "golden lightning of the setting sun." Nature, in Shelley, wants homeliness and relief. While poets like Wordsworth and Burns let in an ideal light upon the rough fields of earth, Shelley escapes into a "moonlight-colored" realm of shadows and dreams, among whose abstractions the heart turns cold. One bit of Wordsworth's mountain turf is worth them all.
By the death of John Keats (1796-1821), whose elegy Shelley sang in Adonais, English poetry suffered an irreparable loss. His Endymion, 1818, though disfigured by mawkishness and by some affectations of manner, was rich in promise. Its faults were those of youth, the faults of exuberance and of a sensibility, which time corrects. Hyperion, 1820, promised to be his masterpiece, but he left it unfinished—"a Titanic torso"—because, as he said, "there were too many Miltonic inversions in it." The subject was the displacement by Phoebus Apollo of the ancient sun-god, Hyperion, the last of the Titans who retained his dominion. It was a theme of great capabilities, and the poem was begun by Keats with a strength of conception which leads to the belief that here was once more a really epic genius, had fate suffered it to mature. The fragment, as it stands—"that inlet to severe magnificence"—proves how rapidly Keats's diction was clarifying. He had learned to string up his loose chords. There is nothing maudlin in Hyperion; all there is in whole tones and in the grand manner, "as sublime as Aeschylus," said Byron, with the grave, antique simplicity, and something of modern sweetness interfused.
Keats's father was a groom in a London livery-stable. The poet was apprenticed at fifteen to a surgeon. At school he had studied Latin but not Greek. He, who of all the English poets had the most purely Hellenic spirit, made acquaintance with Greek literature and art only through the medium of classical dictionaries, translations, and popular mythologies; and later through the marbles and casts in the British Museum. His friend, the artist Haydon, lent him a copy of Chapman's Homer, and the impression that it made upon him he recorded in his sonnet, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. Other poems of the same inspiration are his three sonnets, To Homer, On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, On a Picture of Leander, Lamia, and the beautiful Ode on a Grecian Urn. But Keats's art was retrospective and eclectic, the blossom of a double root; and "golden-tongued Romance with serene lute" had her part in him, as well as the classics. In his seventeenth year he had read the Faerie Queene, and from Spenser he went on to a study of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. Then he took up Italian and read Ariosto. The influence of these studies is seen in his poem, Isabella, or the Pot of Basil, taken from a story of Boccaccio; in his wild ballad, La Belle Dame sans Merci; and in his love tale, the Eve of St. Agnes, with its wealth of mediæval adornment. In the Ode to Autumn, and Ode to a Nightingale, the Hellenic choiceness is found touched with the warmer hues of romance.
There is something deeply tragic in the short story of Keats's life. The seeds of consumption were in him; he felt the stirrings of a potent genius, but he knew that he could not wait for it to unfold, but must die
Before high-piled books in charactry
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain.
His disease was aggravated, possibly, by the stupid brutality with which the reviewers had treated Endymion; and certainly by the hopeless love which devoured him. "The very thing which I want to live most for," he wrote, "will be a great occasion of my death. If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me." In the autumn of 1820, his disease gaining apace, he went on a sailing vessel to Italy, accompanied by a single friend, a young artist named Severn. The change was of no avail, and he died at Rome a few weeks after, in his twenty-sixth year.
Keats was, above all things, the artist, with that love of the beautiful and that instinct for its reproduction which are the artist's divinest gifts. He cared little about the politics and philosophy of his day, and he did not make his poetry the vehicle of ideas. It was sensuous poetry, the poetry of youth and gladness. But if he had lived, and if, with wider knowledge of men and deeper experience of life, he had attained to Wordsworth's spiritual insight and to Byron's power of passion and understanding, he would have become a greater poet than either. For he had a style—a "natural magic"—which only needed the chastening touch of a finer culture to make it superior to any thing in modern English poetry, and to force us back to Milton or Shakespeare for a comparison. His tombstone, not far from Shelley's, bears the inscription of his own choosing: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." But it would be within the limits of truth to say that it is written in large characters on most of our contemporary poetry. "Wordsworth," says Lowell, "has influenced most the ideas of succeeding poets; Keats their forms." And he has influenced these out of all proportion to the amount which he left, or to his intellectual range, by virtue of the exquisite quality of his technique.
1. Mrs. Oliphant's Literary History of England, 18th-19th Centuries. London: Macmillan & Co., 1883.
2. Wordsworth's Poems. Chosen and edited by Matthew Arnold. London, 1879.
3. Poetry of Byron. Chosen and arranged by Matthew Arnold. London, 1881.
4. Shelley. Julian and Maddalo, Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci, Lyrical Pieces.
5. Landor. Pericles and Aspasia.
6. Coleridge. Table-Talk, Notes on Shakespeare, The Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Love, Ode to France, Ode to the Departing Year, Kubla Khan, Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni, Youth and Age, Frost at Midnight.
7. De Quincey. Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Flight of a Tartar Tribe, Biographical Sketches.
8. Scott. Waverley, Heart of Midlothian, Bride of Lammermoor, Rob Roy, Antiquary, Marmion, Lady of the Lake.
9. Keats. Hyperion, Eve of St. Agnes, Lyrical Pieces. Boston: J.R. Osgood, 1871.
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