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Ch. 3: Keats, Leigh Hunt, and the Dante Revival

In the interchange of literary wares between England and Germany during the last years of the eighteenth century, it is observable that the English romantics went no further back than to their own contemporaries for their knowledge of the Deutsche Vergangenheit. They translated or imitated robber tragedies, chivalry tales, and ghost ballads from the modern restorers of the Teutonic Mittelalter; but they made no draughts upon the original storehouse of German mediaeval poetry. There was no such reciprocity as yet between England and the Latin countries. French romanticism dates, at the earliest, from Chateaubriand's "Genie du Christianisme" (1802), and hardly made itself felt as a definite force, even in France, before Victor Hugo's "Cromwell" (1828). But in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Italy, Spain, and France began to contribute material to the English movement in the shape of translations like Cary's "Divine Comedy" (1814), Lockhart's "Spanish Ballads" (1824); Southey's "Amadis of Gaul" (1803), "Palmerin of England" (1807), and "The Chronicle of the Cid" (1808); and Rose's[1] "Partenopex of Blois" (1807). By far the most influential of these was Cary's "Dante."

Hitherto the Italian Middle Age had impressed itself upon the English imagination not directly but through the richly composite art of the Renaissance schools of painting and poetry; through Raphael and his followers; through the romances of Ariosto and Tasso and their English scholar, Spenser. Elizabethan England had been supplied with versions of the "Orlando Furioso" [2] and the "Gierusalemme Liberata," by Harrington and Fairfax—the latter still a standard translation and a very accomplished piece of versification. Warton and Hurd and other romanticising critics of the eighteenth century were perpetually upholding Ariosto and Tasso against French detraction:

"In face of all his foes, the Cruscan quire,
And Boileau, whose rash envy could allow
No strain which shamed his country's creaking lyre,
That whetstone of the teeth—monotony in wire!" [3]

Scott's eager championship of Ariosto has already been mentioned.[4] But the stuff of the old Charlemagne epos is sophisticated in the brilliant pages of Ariosto, who follows Pulci and Boiardo, if not in burlesquing chivalry outright, yet in treating it with a half irony. Tasso is serious, but submits his romantic matter—Godfrey of Boulogne and the First Crusade—to the classical epic mould. It was pollen from Italy, but not Italy of the Middle Ages, that fructified English poetry in the sixteenth century. Two indeed of gli antichi, "the all Etruscan three," communicated an impulse both earlier and later. Love sonneteering, in emulation of Petrarca, began at Henry VIII.'s court. Chaucer took the substance of "Troilus and Creseyde" and "The Knightes Tale" from Boccaccio's "Filostrato" and "Teseide"; and Dryden, who never mentions Dante, versified three stories from the "Decameron." But Petrarch and Boccaccio were not mediaeval minds. They represent the earlier stages of humanism and the new learning. Dante was the genuine homme du moyen âge, and Dante was the latest of the great revivals. "Dante," says Carlyle, "was the spokesman of the Middle Ages; the thought they lived by stands here in everlasting music."

The difficulty, not to say obscurity, of the "Divine Comedy"; its allusive, elliptical style; its scholasticism and allegorical method; its multitudinous references to local politics and the history of thirteenth-century Italy, defied approach. Above all, its profound, austere, mystical spirituality was abhorrent to the clear, shallow rationalism of the eighteenth century, as well as to the religious liberalism of the seventeenth and the joyous sensuality of the sixteenth. Goethe the pagan disliked Dante, no less than Scott the Protestant.[5] In particular, deistic France, arbiter elegantiarum, felt with a shiver of repulsion,

"How grim the master was of Tuscan song."

"I estimate highly," wrote Voltaire to an Italian correspondent, "the courage with which you have dared to say that Dante was a madman[6] and his work a monster. . . . There are found among us and in the eighteenth century, people who strive to admire imaginations so stupid and barbarous." A French translation of the "Divine Comedy" had been printed by the Abbé Grangier[7] at Paris in 1596; but Rivarol, whose "Inferno" was published in 1783, was the first Frenchman, says Lowell, to divine Dante's greatness. The earliest German version was Bachenschwanz's prose translation of the "Commedia" (Leipsic, 1767-69),[8] but the German romantic school were the first to furnish a sympathetic interpretation of Dante to their countrymen.

Chaucer was well acquainted with the work of "the grete poet of Florence," and drew upon him occasionally, though by no means so freely as upon Boccaccio. Thus in "The Monkes Tale" he re-tells, in a very inferior fashion, the tragedy of Ugolino. In "The Parliament of Foules" and "The Hous of Fame" there are distinct imitations of Dante. A passage from the "Purgatory" is quoted in the "Wif of Bathes Tale," etc. Spenser probably, and Milton certainly, knew their Dante. Milton's sonnet to Henry Lawes mentions Dante's encounter with the musician Casella "in the milder shades of Purgatory." Here and there a reference to the "Divine Comedy" occurs in some seventeenth-century English prose writer like Sir Thomas Browne or Jeremy Taylor. It is thought that the description of Hell in Sackville's "Mirror for Magistrates" shows an acquaintance with the "Inferno." But Dante had few readers in England before the nineteenth century. He was practically unknown there and in all of Europe outside of Italy. "His reputation," said Voltaire, "will go on increasing because scarce anybody reads him." And half a century later Napoleon said the same thing in the same words: "His fame is increasing and will continue to increase because no one ever reads him."

In the third volume of his "History of English Poetry" (1781), Thomas Warton had spoken of the "Divine Comedy" as "this wonderful compound of classical and romantic fancy, of pagan and Christian theology, of real and fictitious history, of tragical and comic incidents, of familiar and heroic manners, and of satirical and sublime poetry. But the grossest improprieties of this poem discover an originality of invention, and its absurdities often border on sublimity. We are surprised that a poet should write one hundred cantos on hell, paradise, and purgatory. But this prolixity is partly owing to the want of art and method, and is common to all early compositions, in which everything is related circumstantially and without rejection, and not in those general terms which are used by modern writers." Warton is shocked at Dante's "disgusting fooleries" and censures his departure from Virgilian grace. Milton "avoided the childish or ludicrous excesses of these bold inventions . . . but rude and early poets describe everything." But Warton felt Dante's greatness. "Hell," he wrote, "grows darker at his frown." He singled out for special mention the Francesca and Ugolino episodes.

If Warton could write thus it is not surprising to discover among classical critics either a total silence as to Dante, or else a systematic depreciation. Addison does not mention him in his Italian travels; and in his "Saturday papers" misses the very obvious chance for a comparison between Dante and Milton such as Macaulay afterwards elaborated in his essay on Milton. Goldsmith, who knew nothing of Dante at first hand, wrote of him with the usual patronising ignorance of eighteenth-century criticism as to anything outside of the Greek and Latin classics: "He addressed a barbarous people in a method suited to their apprehension, united purgatory and the river Styx, St. Paul and Virgil, heaven and hell together; and shows a strange mixture of good sense and absurdity. The truth is, he owes most of his reputation to the obscurity of the times in which he lived." [1]

In 1782, William Hayley, the biographer of Cowper and author of that very mild poem "The Triumphs of Temper," published a verse "Essay on Epic Poetry" in five epistles. In his notes to the third epistle, he gave an outline of Dante's life with a translation of his sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti and of the first three cantos of the "Inferno." "Voltaire," he says, has spoken of Dante "with that precipitate vivacity which so frequently led the lively Frenchman to insult the reputation of the noblest writers." He refers to the "judicious and spirited summary" of the "Divine Comedy" in Warton, and adds, "We have several versions of the celebrated story of Ugolino; but I believe no entire canto of Dante has hitherto appeared in our language. . . . The author has been solicited to execute an entire translation of Dante, but the extreme inequality of this poet would render such a work a very laborious undertaking; and it appears very doubtful how far such a version would interest our country. Perhaps the reception of these cantos may discover to the translator the sentiments of the public." Hayley adopted "triple rhyme," i.e., the terza rima, and said that he did not recollect it had ever been used before in English. His translation is by no means contemptible—much better than Boyd's,—but fails entirely to catch Dante's manner or to keep the strange precision and picturesqueness of his phrase. Thus he renders

"Chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco,"

"Whose voice was like the whisper of a lute";

and the poet is made to address Beatrice—O donna di virtu—as "bright fair," as if she were one of the belles in "The Rape of the Lock." In this same year a version of the "Inferno" was printed privately and anonymously by Charles Rogers, a book and art collector and a friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds. But the first complete translation of the "Comedy" into English was made by Henry Boyd, a clergyman of the Irish Church; the "Inferno" in 1785 (with a specimen from Ariosto); the whole in 1802. Boyd was a quite obscure person, author among other things of a Spenserian poem entitled "The Woodman's Tale," and his translation attracted little notice. In his introduction he compares Dante with Homer, and complains that "the venerable old bard . . . has been long neglected"; perhaps, he suggests, because his poem could not be tried by Aristotle's rules or submitted to the usual classical tests.

"Since the French, the restorers of the art of criticism, cast a damp upon original invention, the character of Dante has been thrown under a deeper shade. That agreeable and volatile nation found in themselves an insuperable aversion to the gloomy and romantic bard, whose genius, ardent, melancholy, and sublime, was so different from their own."

Boyd used a six-lined stanza, a singularly ill chosen medium for rendering the terza rima; and his diction was as wordy and vague as Dante's is concise and sharp of edge. A single passage will illustrate his manner:

"So full the symphony of grief arose,
My heart, responsive to the lovers' woes,
With thrilling sympathy convulsed my breast.
Too strong at last for life my passion grew,
And, sickening at the lamentable view,
I fell like one by mortal pangs oppressed." [10]

The first opportunity which the mere English reader had to form any real notion of Dante, was afforded by Henry Francis Cary's translation in blank verse (the "Inferno," with the Italian text in 1805; the entire "Commedia" in 1814, with the title "The Vision of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise"). This was a work of talent, if not of genius; and in spite of the numerous versions in prose and verse that have since appeared, it continues the most current and standard Dante in England, if not in America, where Longfellow naturally challenges precedence. The public was as yet so unprepared to appreciate Dante that Cary's work received little attention until brought into notice by Coleridge; and the translator was deeply chagrined by the indifference, not to say hostility, with which his labours were acknowledged. In the memoir[11] of Cary by his son there is a letter from Anne Seward—the Swan of Lichfield—which throws a singular light upon the critical taste of the "snug coterie and literary lady" of the period. She writes: "How can you profess to be charmed with the few faint outlines of landscape painting in Dante, who are blind to the beautiful, distinct, and profuse scenery in the pages of Ossian?" She goes on to complain that the poem, in its English dress, is vulgar and obscure.

Coleridge devoted to Dante a part of his series of lectures given at London in 1818, reading copious selections from Cary's version. The translator had claimed, in his introduction, that the Florentine poet "leaves to Homer and Shakespeare alone the power of challenging the preeminence or equality." Coleridge emphasized the "endless, subtle beauties of Dante"; the vividness, logical connection, strength, and energy of his style. In this he pronounced him superior to Milton; and in picturesqueness he affirmed that he surpassed all other poets ancient or modern. With characteristic penetration he indicated the precise position of Dante in mediaeval literature; his poetry is "the link between religion and philosophy"; it is "christianized, but without the further Gothic accession of proper chivalry"; it has that "inwardness which . . . distinguishes all the classic from all the modern poetry." It was perhaps in consequence of Coleridge's praise that Cary's translation went into its second edition in 1819, the year following this lecture course. A third was published in 1831. Italians used to complain that the foreign reader's knowledge of the "Divine Comedy" was limited to the "Inferno," and generally to the Ugolino and Francesca passages. Coleridge's quotations are all from the "Inferno," and Lowell thinks that he had not read beyond it. He testified that the Ugolino and Francesca stories were already "so well known and admired that it would be pedantry to analyse them." Sir Joshua Reynolds had made a painting of the former subject. In 1800 William Blake produced a series of seven engravings in illustration of the "Inferno." In 1817 Flaxman began his illustrations of the whole "Commedia," extending to a hundred plates.[12]

In 1819-20 Byron was living at Ravenna, the place of Dante's death and burial[13] and of the last years of his exile. He used to ride for hours together through Ravenna's "immemorial wood," [14] and the associations of the scene prompted him to put into English (March, 1820) the Francesca episode, that "thing woven as out of rainbows on a ground of eternal black." In the letter to Murray, sent with his translation, he wrote: "Enclosed you will find, line for line, in third rhyme (terza rima), of which your British blackguard reader as yet understands nothing, Fanny of Rimini. You know that she was born here, and married and slain, from Cary, Boyd, and such people." In his diary, Byron commented scornfully on Frederick Schlegel's assertions that Dante had never been a favourite with his own countrymen; and that his main defect was a want of gentle feelings. "Not a favourite! Why they talk Dante—write Dante—and think and dream Dante at this moment (1821) to an excess which would be ridiculous, but that he deserves it. . . . Of gentle feelings!—and Francesca of Rimini—and the father's feelings in Ugolino—and Beatrice—and 'La Pia'! Why there is a gentleness in Dante beyond all gentleness." Byron had not the patience to be a good translator. His rendering is closer and, of course, more spirited than Hayley's; but where long search for the right word was needed, and a delicate shading of phrase to reproduce without loss the meaning of this most meaning and least translatable of masters, Byron's work shows haste and imperfection.

"Love, who to none beloved to love again

is neither an idiomatic nor in any way an adequate englishing of

"Amor, che a nullo amato amar perdona."

Nor does

"Accursed was the book and he who wrote,"

fully give the force of the famous

"Galeotto fu il libro, e chi lo scrisse." [15]

The year before Byron had composed "The Prophecy of Dante," an original poem in four cantos, in terza rima,

". . . imitative rhyme,
Harsh Runic copy of the Soutb's sublime." [16]

The poem foretells "the fortunes of Italy in the ensuing centuries," and is a rheotorical piece, diffuse and declamatory, and therein quite the opposite of Dante. It manifests Byron's self-conscious habit of submitting his theme to himself, instead of losing himself in his theme. He is Dante in exile, and Gemma Donati is Lady Byron—

"That fatal she,
Their mother, the cold partner who hath brought
Destruction for a dowry—this to see
And feel and know without repair, hath taught
A bitter lesson; but it leaves me free:
I have not vilely found nor basely sought,
They made an exile not a slave of me."

Dante's bitter and proud defiance found a response in Byron's nature, but his spirit, as a whole, the English poet was not well fitted to interpret. In the preface to "The Prophecy," Byron said that he had not seen the terza rima tried before in English, except by Hayley, whose translation he knew only from an extract in the notes to Beckford's "Vathek."

Shelley's knowledge and appreciation of Dante might be proved from isolated images and expressions in many parts of his writings. He translated the sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti with greater freedom and elegance than Hayley, and wrote a short copy of verses on the Hunger Tower at Pisa, the scene of Ugolino's sufferings. In the preface to "Epipsychidion" he cites the "Vita Nuova" as the utterance of an idealised and spiritualised love like that which his own poem records. In the "Defence of Poetry" he pays a glowing tribute to Dante as the second of epic poets and "the first awakener of entranced Europe." His poetry is the bridge "which unites the modern and the ancient world." Contrary to the prevailing critical tradition, Shelley preferred the "Purgatory" and the "Paradise" to the "Hell." Shelley also employed terza rima in his fragmentary pieces, "Prince Athanase," "The Triumph of Life," "The Woodman and the Nightingale," and in one of his best lyrics, the "Ode to the West Wind," [17] written in 1819 "in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence." This linked measure, so difficult for the translator and which gives a hampered movement to Byron's and Hayley's specimens of the "Inferno," Shelley may be said to have really domesticated in English verse by his splendid handling of it in original work:

"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!"

Shelley expressed to Medwin his dissatisfaction with all English renderings from Dante—even with Cary—and announced his intention, or desire, to translate the whole of the "Divine Comedy" in terza rima. Two specimens of this projected version he gave in "Ugolino," and "Matilda Gathering Flowers" ("Purg.," xxviii., 1-51). He also made a translation of the first canzone of the "Convito."

After the appearance of Cary's version, critical comprehension of Dante grew rapidly. In the same year when Coleridge gave his lectures, Hallam published his "Middle Ages," which contained a just though somewhat coldly worded estimate of the great Italian. This was amplified in his later work, "The Literature of Europe" (1838-39). Hallam said that Dante was the first name in the literature of the Middle Ages, the creator of his nation's poetry, and the most original of all writers, and the most concise. But he blamed him for obscurity, forced and unnatural turns of expression, and barbarous licenses of idiom. The "Paradise" seemed to him tedious, as a whole, and much of the "Purgatory" heavy. Hallam repeated, if he did not originate that nice bit of discernment, that in his "Paradise" Dante uses only three leading ideas—light, music, and motion. Then came Macaulay's essay "Milton," in the Edinburgh for 1825, with the celebrated parallel between the "Divine Comedy" and the "Paradise Lost," and the contrast between Dante's "picturesque" and Milton's "imaginative" method. Macaulay's analysis has been questioned by Ruskin and others; some of his positions were perhaps mistaken, but they were the most advanced that English Dante criticism had as yet taken up. And finally came Carlyle's vivid piece of portrait painting in "Hero Worship" (1841). The first literal prose translation of any extent from the "Commedia" was the "Inferno" by Carlyle's brother John (1849).

Since the middle of the century Dante study and Dante literature in English-speaking lands have waxed enormously. Dante societies have been founded in England and America. Almost every year sees another edition, a new commentary or a fresh translation in prose, in blank verse, in terza rima, or in some form of stanza. It is not exaggerating to say that there is more public mention of Dante now in a single year than in all the years of the eighteenth century together. It would be interesting, if it were possible, to count the times that Dante's name occurs in English writings of the eighteenth and then of the nineteenth century; afterwards to do the same with Ariosto and Tasso and compare the results. It would be found that, while the eighteenth century set no very high value on Ariosto and Tasso, it ignored Dante altogether; and that the nineteenth has put aside the superficial mediaevalism of the Renaissance romancers and gone back to the great religious romancer of the Italian Middle Age. There is no surer plummet than Dante's to sound the spiritual depth of a time. It is in the nineteenth century first that Shakspere and Dante took possession of the European mind. In 1800 Shakspere was an English, or at most an English and German poet, and Dante exclusively an Italian. In 1900 they had both become world poets. Shakspere's foreign conquests were the earlier and are still the wider, as wide perhaps as the expanse—

"That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne."

But the ground that Dante has won he holds with equal secureness. Not that he will ever be popular, in Shakspere's way; and yet it is far gone when the aesthete in a comic opera is described as a "Francesca da Rimini young man."

As a stimulus to creative work the influence of Dante, though not entirely absent, is not conspicuous in the first half of the century. It is not until the time of the Rossettis in England and of Longfellow and Dr. Parsons in America that any poetry of a really Dantesque inspiration and, at the same time, of high original value was added to our literature.[18]

The first fruits of the Dante revival in England, in the shape of original production, was Leigh Hunt's "Story of Rimini" (1816)—"Mr. Hunt's smutty story of Rimini," as the Tory wits of Blackwood were fond of calling it in their onslaughts upon the Cockney school. This was a romaunt in four cantos upon the already familiar episode of Francesca, that "lily in the mouth of Tartarus." Hunt took Dryden's "Fables" as his model in versification, employing the heroic couplet with the frequent variation of the triplet and the alexandrine. The poem is not at all Dantesque in its lax and fluent sweetness, and in that colloquial, familiar manner which is constant in all Hunt's writing, both prose and verse; reminding one, at its best, of Chaucer, who was, indeed, one of his favourite masters. Hunt softens the ferocity of the tale as given by Boccaccio, according to whom the husband Giovanni Malatesta was a cripple, and killed the lovers in flagrante delicto. Hunt makes him a personable man, though of proud and gloomy temper. He slays his brother Paolo in chivalrous fashion and in single combat, and Francesca dies of a broken heart. The descriptive portions of the "Story of Rimini" are charming: the feudal procession with trumpeters, heralds, squires, and knights, sent to escort home the bride, the pine forest outside Ravenna, and the garden at Rimini in which the lovers used to meet—

"Places of nestling green for poets made."

Hunt had a quick eye for colour; a fondness, not altogether free from affectation, for dainty phrases; and a feminine love of little niceties in dress, tapestry, needlework, and furnishings. The poem was written mostly in prison where its author spent two years for a libel on the Prince Regent. Byron used to visit him there and bring him books bearing on Francesca's history. Hunt brought into the piece romantic stuff from various sources, including a summary of the book which betrayed the lovers to their fatal passion, the romance of "Lancelot du Lac." And Giovanni speaks to his dying brother a paraphrase of the celebrated eulogy pronounced over Lancelot by Sir Ector in the "Morte Darthur":

"And, Paulo, thou wert the completest knight
That ever rode with banner to the fight;
And thou wert the most beautiful to see,
That ever came in press of chivalry:
And of a sinful man thou wert the best
That ever for his friend put spear in rest;
And thou wert the most meek and cordial
That ever among ladies eat in hall;
And thou wert still, for all that bosom gored,
The kindest man that ever struck with sword."

Hunt makes the husband discover his wife's infidelity by overhearing her talking in her sleep. In many other particulars he enfeebles, dandifies, and sentimentalises Dante's fierce, abrupt tragedy; holding the reader by the button while he prattles in his garrulous way of Paulo's "taste"—

"The very nose, lightly yet firmly wrought,
Showed taste"—

and of

"The two divinest things in earthly lot,
A lovely woman in a rural spot!"

a couplet which irresistibly suggests suburban picnics.

Yet no one in his generation did more than Leigh Hunt to familiarise the English public with Italian romance. He began the study of Italian when he was a schoolboy at Christ Hospital, being attracted to Ariosto by a picture of Angelica and Medoro, in West's studio. Like his friend Keats, on whose "Eve of St. Agnes" he wrote an enthusiastic commentary,[19] Hunt was eclectic in his choice of material, drawing inspiration impartially from the classics and the romantics; but, like Keats, he became early a declared rebel against eighteenth-century traditions and asserted impulse against rule. "In antiquarian corners," he says, in writing of the influences of his childish days, "Percy's 'Reliques' were preparing a nobler age both in poetry and prose." At school he fell passionately in love with Collins and Gray, composed a "Winter" in imitation of Thomson, one hundred stanzas of a "Fairy King" in emulation of Spenser, and a long poem in Latin inspired by Gray's odes and Malet's "Northern Antiquities." In 1802 [aetate 18] he published a volume of these juvenilia—odes after Collins and Gray, blank verse after Thomson and Akenside, and a "Palace of Pleasure" after Spenser's "Bower of Bliss." [20] It was in this same year that on a visit to Oxford, he was introduced to Kett, the professor of poetry, who expressed a hope that the youthful bard might be inspired by "the muse of Warton," whom Hunt had never read. There had fallen in Hunt's way when he was a young man, Bell's edition of the poets, which included Chaucer and Spenser. "The omission of these in Cooke's edition," he says, "was as unpoetical a sign of the times as the present familiarity with their names is the reverse. It was thought a mark of good sense; as if good sense, in matters of literature, did not consist as much in knowing what was poetical poetry, as brilliant wit." Of his "Feast of the Poets" (1814) he writes:[21] "I offended all the critics of the old or French school, by objecting to the monotony of Pope's versification, and all the critics of the new or German school by laughing at Wordsworth." In the preface to his collected poems [1832] occurs the following interesting testimony to the recentness of the new criticism. "So long does fashion succeed in palming its petty instincts upon the world for those of a nation and of nature, that it is only of late years that the French have ceased to think some of the most affecting passages in Shakespeare ridiculous. . . . Yet the English themselves, no great while since, half blushed at these criticisms, and were content if the epithet 'bizarre' ('votre bizarre Shakespeare') was allowed to be translated into 'a wild, irregular genius.' Everything was wild and irregular except rhymesters in toupees. A petty conspiracy of decorums took the place of what was becoming to humanity." In the summer of 1822 Hunt went by sailing vessel through the Mediterranean to Italy. The books which he read chiefly on board ship were "Don Quixote," Ariosto, and Berni; and his diary records the emotion with which he coasted the western shores of Spain, the ground of Italian romance, where the Paynim chivalry used to land to go against Charlemagne: the scene of Boiardo's "Orlando Inamorato" and Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso." "I confess I looked at these shores with a human interest, and could not help feeling that the keel of our vessel was crossing a real line, over which knights and lovers had passed. And so they have, both real and fabulous; the former not less romantic, the latter scarcely less real. . . . Fair speed your sails over the lucid waters, ye lovers, on a lover-like sea! Fair speed them, yet never land; for where the poet has left you, there ought ye, as ye are, to be living forever—forever gliding about a summer sea, touching at its flowery islands and reposing beneath its moon."

Hunt's sojourn in Italy, where he lived in close association with Byron and Shelley, enabled him to préciser his knowledge of the Italian language and literature. In 1846 he published a volume of "Stories from the Italian Poets," containing a summary or free paraphrase in prose of the "Divine Comedy" and the poems of Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso, "with comments throughout, occasional passages versified and critical notices of the lives and genius of the authors." Like our own romanticist poet Longfellow, who rediscovered Europe for America, Leigh Hunt was a sympathetic and interpretative rather than a creative genius; and like Longfellow, an admirable translator. Among his collected poems are a number of elegant and spirited versions from various mediaeval literatures. "The Gentle Armour" is a playful adaptation of a French fabliau "Les Trois Chevaliers et la Chemise," which tells of a knight whose hard-hearted lady set him the task of fighting his two rivals in the lists, armed only in her smock; and, in contrition for this harsh imposure, went to the altar with her faithful champion, wearing only the same bloody sark as her bridal garment. At least this is the pretty turn which Hunt gave to the story. In the original it had a coarser ending. There are also, among these translations from mediaeval sources, the Latin drinking song attributed to Walter Map—

Mihi est propositum in taberna mori—

and Andrea de Basso's terrible "Ode to a Dead Body," in fifteenth-century Italian; which utters, with extraordinary power, the ascetic thought of the Middle Age, dwelling with a kind of gloomy exultation on the foulness of the human frame in decay.

In the preface to his "Italian Poets," Hunt speaks of "how widely Dante has re-attracted of late the attention of the world." He pronounces him "the greatest poet for intensity that ever lived," and complains that his metrical translators have failed to render his "passionate, practical, and creative style—a style which may be said to write things instead of words." Hunt's introduction is a fine piece of critical work. His alert, sparkling, and nimble intellect—somewhat lacking in concentration and seriousness—but sensitive above all things to the picturesque, was keenly awake to Dante's poetic greatness. On the other hand, his cheerful philosophy and tolerant, not to say easy-going moral nature, was shocked by the Florentine's bitter pride, and by what he conceives to be his fanaticism, bigotry, superstition, and personal vindictiveness, when

"Hell he peoples with his foes,
Dark scourge of many a guilty line."

Hunt was a Universalist, and Dante was a Catholic Calvinist. There was a determined optimism about Hunt, and a buoyancy as of a cork or other light body, sometimes a little exasperating to men of less sanguine temperament.[22] He ends by protesting that Dante is a semi-barbarian and his "Divine Comedy" too often an infernal tragedy. "Such a vision as that of his poem (in a theological point of view) seems no better than the dream of an hypochondriacal savage." It was some years before this, in his lecture on "The Hero as Poet," delivered in 1840, that a friend of Leigh Hunt, of a temperament quite the opposite of his, had spoken a very different word touching this cruel scorn—this saeva indignatio of Dante's. Carlyle, like Hunt, discovered intensity to be the prevailing character of Dante's genius, emblemed by the pinnacle of the city of Dis; that "red-hot cone of iron glowing through the dim immensity of gloom." Hunt, the Universalist, said of Dante, "when he is sweet-natured once he is bitter a hundred times." "Infinite pity," says Carlyle, the Calvinist, "yet also infinite rigour of law, it is so nature is made; it is so Dante discerned that she was made. What a paltry notion is that of his 'Divine Comedy's' being a poor splenetic, impotent terrestrial libel; putting those into hell whom he could not be avenged upon on earth! I suppose if ever pity tender as a mother's was in the heart of any man, it was in Dante's. But a man who does not know rigour cannot pity either. His very pity will be cowardly, egoistic—sentimentality, or little better. . . . Morally great above all we must call him; it is the beginning of all. His scorn, his grief are as transcendent as his love; as, indeed, what are they but the inverse or converse of his love?"

It is interesting to note that, antipathetic as Hunt's nature was, in many ways, not only to the individual Dante but to the theological thought of which he was the spokesman, in his view of the sacred art of the Italian Middle Age he anticipated the Pre-Raphaelites and the modern interpreters of Dante. Here is a part of what he says of the paintings in the Campo Santo at Pisa: "The best idea, perhaps, which I can give an Englishman of the general character of the painting is by referring him to the engravings of Albert Durer and the serious parts of Chaucer. There is the same want of proper costume—the same intense feeling of the human being, both in body and soul—the same bookish, romantic, and retired character—the same evidences, in short, of antiquity and commencement, weak (where it is weak) for want of a settled art and language, but strong for that very reason in first impulses, and in putting down all that is felt. . . . The manner in which some of the hoary saints in these pictures pore over their books and carry their decrepit old age, full of a bent and absorbed feebleness—the set limbs of the warriors on horseback—the sidelong unequivocal looks of some of the ladies playing on harps and conscious of their ornaments—the people of fashion seated in rows, with Time coming up unawares to destroy them—the other rows of elders and doctors of the Church, forming part of the array of heaven—the uplifted hand of Christ denouncing the wicked at the day of judgment—the daring satires occasionally introduced against monks and nuns—the profusion of attitudes, expressions, incidents, broad draperies, ornaments of all sorts, visions, mountains, ghastly looking cities, fiends, angels, sibylline old women, dancers, virgin brides, mothers and children, princes, patriarchs, dying saints, it would be simply blind injustice to the superabundance and truth of conception in all this multitude of imagery not to recognize the real inspirers as well as harbingers of Raphael and Michael Angelo, instead of confining the honour to the Masaccios and Peruginos, [who] . . . are no more to be compared with them than the sonneteers of Henry VIII.'s time are to be compared with Chaucer. Even in the very rudest of the pictures, where the souls of the dying are going out of their mouths, in the shape of little children, there are passages not unworthy of Dante and Michael Angelo. . . . Giotto, be thou one to me hereafter, of a kindred brevity, solidity, and stateliness with that of thy friend, Dante!" [23]

Among all the writers of his generation, Keats was most purely the poet, the artist of the beautiful. His sensitive imagination thrilled to every touch of beauty from whatever quarter. That his work is mainly retrospective and eclectic in subject is because a young poet's mind responds more readily to books than to life, and this young poet did not outlive his youth. In the Greek mythology he found a world of lovely images ready to his hand, in the poetry of Spenser, Chaucer, and Ariosto, he found another such world. Arcadia and Faeryland—"the realms of gold"—he rediscovered them both for himself, and he struck into the paths that wound through their enchanted thickets with the ardour of an explorer. This was the very mood of the Renaissance—this genial heat which fuses together the pagan and the Christian systems—this indifference of the creative imagination to the mere sources and materials of its creations. Indeed, there is in Keats' style a "natural magic" which forces us back to Shakspere for comparison, a noticeable likeness to the diction of the Elizabethans, when the classics were still a living spring of inspiration, and not a set of copies held in terrorem over the head of every new poet.

Keats' break with the classical tradition was early and decisive. In his first volume (1817) there is a piece entitled "Sleep and Poetry," composed after a night passed at Leigh Hunt's cottage near Hampstead, which contains his literary declaration of faith. After speaking of the beauty that fills the universe, and of the office of Imagination to be the minister and interpreter of this beauty, as in the old days when "here her altar shone, even in this isle," and "the muses were nigh cloyed with honours," he asks:

"Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
Made great Apollo blush for this, his land.
Men were thought wise who could not understand
His glories: with a puling infant's force,
They swayed about upon a rocking horse
And thought it Pegasus. Ah, dismal-souled!
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean rolled
Its gathering waves—ye felt it not. The blue
Bowed its eternal bosom, and the dew
Of summer night collected still, to make
The morning precious. Beauty was awake!
Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
To things ye knew not of—were closely wed
To musty laws, lined out with wretched rule
And compass vile: so that ye taught a school
Of dolts to smooth, inlay and clip and fit;
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
And did not know it,—no, they went about,
Holding a poor decrepit standard out,
Marked with most flimsy mottoes, and, in large,
The name of one Boileau!"

This complaint, so far as it relates to the style of the rule-ridden eighteenth-century poetry, had been made before: by Cowper, by Wordsworth, by Coleridge. But Keats, with his instinct for beauty, pierces to the core of the matter. It was because of Pope's defective sense of the beautiful that the doubt arose whether he was a poet at all. It was because of its

". . . forgetting the great end
Of Poetry, that it should be a friend
To soothe the cares and lift the thoughts of man,"

that the poetry of the classical school was so unsatisfying. This is one of the very few passages of Keats that are at all doctrinal[24] or polemic; and as such it has been repeatedly cited by biographers and essayists and literary historians. Lowell quotes it, in his essay on Dryden, and adds; "Keats was the first resolute and wilful heretic, the true founder of the modern school, which admits no cis-Elizabethan authority save Milton." Mr. Gosse quotes it and says, "in these lines he has admirably summed up the conceptions of the first half of the present century with regard to classical poetry." [25] The passage was still fresh when Byron, in the letter to Disraeli already quoted[26] (March 15th, 1820), held it up to scorn as the opinion of "a young person learning to write poetry and beginning by teaching the art. . . . The writer of this is a tadpole of the Lakes, a young disciple of the six or seven new schools, in which he has learned to write such lines and such sentiments as the above. He says 'easy were the task' of imitating Pope, or it may be of equalling him, I presume. I recommend him to try before he is so positive on the subject, and then compare what he will have then written, and what he has now written, with the humblest and earliest compositions of Pope, produced in years still more youthful than those of Mr. Keats when he invented his new 'Essay on Criticism,' entitled 'Sleep and Poetry' (an ominous title) from whence the above canons are taken."

In a manuscript note on this passage made after Keats' death, Byron wrote: "My indignation at Mr. Keats' depreciation of Pope has hardly permitted me to do justice to his own genius. . . . He is a loss to our literature, and the more so, as he himself, before his death, is said to have been persuaded that he had not taken the right line, and was reforming his style upon the more classical models of the language," Keats made a study of Dryden's versification before writing "Lamia"; but had he lived to the age of Methusaleh, he would not have "reformed his style" upon any such classical models as Lord Byron had in mind. Classical he might have become, in the sense in which "Hyperion" is classical; but in the sense in which Pope was classical—never. Pope's Homer he deliberately set aside for Chapman's—

"Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold." [27]

Keats had read Virgil, but seemingly not much Latin poetry besides, and he had no knowledge of Greek. He made acquaintance with the Hellenic world through classical dictionaries and a study of the casts in the British Museum. But his intuitive grasp of the antique ideal of beauty stood him in as good stead as Landor's scholarship. In such work as "Hyperion" and the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" he mediates between the ancient and the modern spirit, from which Landor's clear-cut marbles stand aloof in chill remoteness. As concerns his equipment, Keats stands related to Scott in romance learning much as he does to Landor in classical scholarship. He was no antiquary, and naturally made mistakes of detail. In his sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," he makes Cortez, and not Balboa, the discoverer of the Pacific. À propos of a line in "The Eve of St. Agnes"—

"And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor"—

Leigh Hunt called attention to the fact that rushes and not carpets covered the floors in the Middle Ages. In the same poem, Porphyro sings to his lute an ancient ditty,

"In Provençe called 'La Belle Dame sans Merci.'"

The ditty was by Alain Chartier, who was not a troubadour, but a Norman by birth and a French court poet of the fifteenth century. The title, which Keats found in a note in an edition of Chaucer, pleased his fancy and suggested his ballad,[28] of the same name, which has nothing in common with Chartier's poem. The latter is a conventional love estrif in the artificial taste of the time. But errors of this sort, which any encyclopaedia can correct, are perfectly unimportant.

Byron's sneer at Keats, as "a tadpole of the Lakes," was ridiculously wide of the mark. He was nearly of the second generation of romantics; he was only three years old when "The Ancient Mariner" was published; "Christabel" and Scott's metrical romances had all been issued before he put forth his first volume. But though he owes much to Coleridge[29] and more perhaps to Chatterton, he took no imprint from Wordsworth, and cared nothing for Scott. Keats, like his friend Hunt, turned instinctively away from northern to southern Gothic; from rough border minstrelsy to the mythology and romance of the races that dwelt about the midland sea. Keats' sensuous nature longed for "a beaker full of the warm South." "I have tropical blood in my veins," wrote Hunt, deprecating "the criticism of a Northern climate" as applied to his "Story of Rimini." Keats' death may be said to have come to him from Scotland, not only by reason of the brutal attacks in Blackwood's—to which there is some reason for believing that Scott was privy—but because the hardships and exposure of his Scotch tour laid the foundation of his fatal malady. He brought back no literary spoils of consequence from the North, and the description of the journey in his letters makes it evident that his genius could not find itself there. This uncomfortable feeling of alienation is expressed in his "Sonnet on Visiting the Tomb of Burns." The Scotch landscape seems "cold—strange."

"The short-lived paly Summer is but won
From Winter's ague."

And in the letter from Dumfries, enclosing the sonnet he writes: "I know not how it is, the clouds, the sky, the houses, all seem anti-Grecian and anti-Charlemagnish." Charlemagnish is Keats' word for the true mediaeval-romantic. It is noteworthy that Keats avoided Scott's favourite verse forms. "La Belle Dame sans Merci" is not in the minstrel ballad measure; and when Keats uses the eight-syllabled couplet, he uses it very differently from Scott, without the alternate riming which prevails in "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" and all the rest of the series.

A spark from Spenser kindled the flame of poetry in Keats. His friend, Cowden Clarke, read him the "Epithalamium" one day in 1812 in an arbour in the old school garden at Enfield, and lent him a copy of "The Faëry Queene" to take home with him. "He romped through the scenes of the romance," reports Mr. Clarke, "like a young horse turned into a spring meadow." There is something almost uncanny—like the visits of a spirit—about these recurrent appearances of Spenser in English literary history. It must be confessed that nowadays we do not greatly romp through "The Faëry Queene." There even runs a story that a certain professor of literature in an American college, being consulted about Spenser by one of his scholars, exclaimed impatiently, "Oh, damn Spenser!" But it is worth while to have him in the literature, if only as a starter for young poets. Keats' earliest known verses are an "Imitation of Spenser" in four stanzas. His allusions to him are frequent, and his fugitive poems include a "Sonnet to Spenser" and a number of "Spenserian Stanzas." But his only really important experiment in the measure of "The Faëry Queene" was "The Eve of St. Agnes." It was with fine propriety that Shelley chose that measure for his elegy on Keats in "Adonais." Keats made a careful study of Spenser's verse, the

"Spenserian vowels that elope with ease"—

and all the rest of it. His own work in this kind is thought to resemble most closely the "Psyche" of the Irish poetess, Mary Tighe, published in 1805[30] on the well-known fable of Cupid and Psyche in Apuleius. It is inferred that Keats knew the poem from a mention of the author in one of his pieces. He also wrote an "Ode to Psyche," which seems, however, to have been inspired by an engraving in Spenser's "Polymetis." Mrs. Tighe was one of the latest and best of the professed imitators of Spenser. There is beauty of a kind in her languidly melodious verse and over-profuse imagery, but it is not the passionate and quintessential beauty of Keats. She is quite incapable of such choice and pregnant word effects as abound in every stanza of "St. Agnes":

"Unclasps her warmed jewels, one by one":

"Buttressed from moonlight":

"The music, yearning like a God in pain":

"The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion."

Keats' intimate association with Leigh Hunt, whose acquaintance he made in 1816, was not without influence on his literary development. He admired the "Story of Rimini," [31] and he adopted in his early verse epistles and in "Endymion" (1818), that free ante-Popean treatment of the couplet with enjambement, or overflow, double rimes, etc., which Hunt had practised in the poem itself and advocated in the preface. Many passages in "Rimini" and in Keats' couplet poems anticipate, in their easy flow, the relaxed versification of "The Earthly Paradise." This was the Elizabethan type of heroic couplet, and its extreme instance is seen in William Chamberlayne's "Pharonnida" (1659). There is no proof of Keats' alleged indebtedness to Chamberlayne, though he is known to have been familiar with another specimen of the type, William Browne's "Britannia's Pastorals." Hunt also confirmed Keats in the love of Spenser, and introduced him to Ariosto whom he learned to read in the Italian, five or six stanzas at a time. Dante he read in Cary's translation, a copy of which was the only book that he took with him on his Scotch trip. "The fifth canto of Dante," he wrote (March, 1819), "pleases me more and more; it is that one in which he meets with Paulo and Francesca." He afterwards dreamed of the story and wrote a sonnet upon his dream, which Rossetti thought "by far the finest of Keats' sonnets" next to that on Chapman's "Homer." [32] Mr. J. M. Robertson thinks that the influence of Gary's "Dante" is visible in "Hyperion," especially in the recast version "Hyperion: A Vision." [33] And Leigh Hunt suggests that in the lines in "The Eve of St. Agnes"—

"The sculptured dead on each side seem to freeze,
Emprisoned in black, purgatorial rails:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries,
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails"—

the germ of the thought is in Dante.[34] Keats wished that Italian might take the place of French in English schools. To Hunt's example was also due, in part, that fondness for neologisms for which the latter apologises in the preface to "Rimini," and with which Keats was wont to enrich his diction, as well as with Chattertonian archaisms, Chapmanese compounds, "taffeta phrases, silken terms precise" from Elizabethan English, and coinages like poesied, jollying, eye-earnestly—licenses and affectations which gave dire offence to Gifford and the classicals generally.

In the 1820 volume, which includes Keats' maturest work, there was a story from the "Decameron," "Isabella, or the Pot of Basil," which tells how a lady exhumes the body of her murdered lover, cuts off the head and buries it in a pot of sweet basil, which she keeps in her chamber and waters with her tears. It was perhaps symptomatic of a certain morbid sensibility in Keats to select this subject from so cheerful a writer as Boccaccio. This intensity of love surviving in face of leprosy, torment, decay, and material horrors of all kinds; this passionate clinging of spirit to body, is a mediaeval note, and is repeated in the neo-romantic school which derives from Keats; in Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris, O'Shaughnessy, Marzials, and Paine. Think of the unshrinking gaze which Dante fixes upon the tortures of the souls in pain; of the wasted body of Christ upon the cross; of the fasts, flagellations, mortifications of penitents; the unwashed friars, the sufferings of martyrs. Keats apologises for his endeavour "to make old prose in modern rime more sweet," and for his departure from the even, unexcited narrative of his original:

"O eloquent and famed Boccaccio,
Of thee we now should ask forgiving boon. . . .
For venturing syllables that ill beseem
The quiet glooms of such a piteous theme. . . .

"Ah! wherefore all this wormy circumstance?
Why linger at the yawning tomb so long?
O for the gentleness of old Romance,
The simple plaining of the minstrel's song."

But it is just this wormy circumstance that rivets the poet's attention; his imagination lingers over Isabella kissing the dead face, pointing each eyelash, and washing away the loam that disfigures it with her tears; over the basil tufts growing rankly from the mouldering head,

"The thing was vile with green and livid spot,"

but Keats' tenderness pierces the grave.

It is instructive to compare "Isabella" with Dryden's "Sigismonda and Guiscardo," also from the "Decameron" and surcharged with the physically horrible. In this tale Tancred sends his daughter her lover's heart in a golden goblet. She kisses the heart, fills the cup with poison, drinks, and dies. The two poems are typical examples of romantic and classical handling, though neither is quite a masterpiece in its kind. The treatment in Dryden is cool, unimpassioned, objective—like Boccaccio's, in fact. The story is firmly told, with a masculine energy of verse and language. Sigismonda and Tancred are characters, confronted wills, as in drama, and their speeches are like tirades from a tragedy of Racine. But here Dryden's rhetorical habit and his fondness for reasoning in rime run away with him, and make his art inferior to Boccaccio's. Sigismonda argues her case like counsel for the defendant. She even enjoys her own argument and carries it out with a gusto into abstractions.

"But leaving that: search we the secret springs,
And backward trace the principles of things;
There shall we find, that when the world began
One common mass composed the mould of man," etc.

Dryden's grossness of taste mars his narrative at several points. The satirist in him will not let him miss the chance for a sneer at priests and another at William III.'s standing army. He makes his heroine's love ignobly sensual. She is a widow, who having "tasted marriage joys," is unwilling to live single. Dryden's bourgeois manner is capable even of ludicrous descents.

"The sudden bound awaked the sleeping sire,
And showed a sight no parent can desire."

In Keats' poem there are no characters dramatically opposed. Lorenzo and Isabella have no individuality apart from their love; passion has absorbed character. The tale is not evolved firmly and continuously, but with lyrical outbursts, a poignancy of sympathy at the points of highest tragic tensity and a swooning sensibility all through, that sometimes breaks into weakness. There can be no question, however, which poem is the more felt; no question, either, as to which method is superior—at least as between these two artists, and as applied to subjects of this particular kind.

"Isabella" is in ottava rima, "The Eve of St. Agnes" in the Spenserian stanza. This exquisite creation has all the insignia of romantic art and has them in a dangerous degree. It is brilliant with colour, richly ornate, tremulous with emotion. Only the fine instinct of the artist saved it from the overladen decoration and cloying sweetness of "Endymion," and kept it chaste in its warmth. As it is, the story is almost too slight for its descriptive mantle "rough with gems and gold." Such as it is, it is of Keats' invention and of the "Romeo and Juliet" variety of plot. A lover who is at feud with his mistress' clan ventures into his foemen's castle while a revel is going on, penetrates by the aid of her nurse to his lady's bower, and carries her off while all the household are sunk in drunken sleep. All this in a night of wild weather and on St. Agnes' Eve, when, according to popular belief, maidens might see their future husbands in their dreams, on the performance of certain conditions. The resemblance of this poem to "Christabel" at several points, has already been mentioned,[35] and especially in the description of the heroine's chamber. But the differences are even more apparent. Coleridge's art is temperate and suggestive, spiritual, too, with an unequalled power of haunting the mind with a sense of ghostly presences. In his scene the touches are light and few; all is hurried, mysterious, shadowy. But Keats was a word painter, his treatment more sensuous than Coleridge's, and fuller of imagery. He lingers over the figure of the maiden disrobing, and over the furnishings of her room. The Catholic elegancies of his poem, as Hunt called them, and the architectural details are there for their own sake—as pictures; the sculptured dead in the chapel, the foot-worn stones, the cobwebbed arches, broad hall pillar, and dusky galleries; the "little moonlight room, pale, latticed, chill"; the chain-drooped lamp:

"The carven angels ever eager-eyed"


"Stared, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
With hair blown back and wings put crosswise on their breasts."

Possibly "La Belle Dame sans Merci" borrows a hint from the love-crazed knight in Coleridge's "Love," who is haunted by a fiend in the likeness of an angel; but here the comparison is to Keats' advantage. Not even Coleridge sang more wildly well than the singer of this weird ballad strain, which has seemed to many critics[36] the masterpiece of this poet, wherein his "natural magic" reaches its most fascinating subtlety and purity of expression.

The famous picture of the painted "casement, high and triple-arched" in Madeline's chamber, "a burst of richness, noiseless, coloured, suddenly enriching the moonlight, as if a door of heaven were opened," [37] should be compared with Scott's no less famous description of the east oriel of Melrose Abbey by moonlight, and the comparison will illustrate a distinction similar to that already noted between the romanticism of Coleridge and Scott. The latter is here depicting an actual spot, one of the great old border abbeys; national pride and the pathos of historic ruins mingle with the description. Madeline's castle stood in the country of dream; and it was an "elfin storm from fairyland" that came to aid the lovers' flight,[38] and all the creatures of his tale are but the

"Shadows haunting fairily
The brain new stuffed in youth with triumphs gay
Of old Romance."

In Keats is the romantic escape, the longing to

"leave the world unseen. And with thee fade away into the forest dim." [39]

Keats cared no more for history than he did for contemporary politics. Courthope[40] quotes a passage from "Endymion" to illustrate his indifference to everything but art;

"Hence, pageant history! Hence, gilded cheat! . . .
Many old rotten-timbered boats there be
Upon thy vaporous bosom, magnified
To goodly vessels, many a sail of pride,
And golden-keeled, is left unlaunched and dry.
But wherefore this? What care, though owl did fly
About the great Athenian admiral's mast?
What care though striding Alexander past
The Indus with his Macedonian numbers?
. . . Juliet leaning
Amid her window-flowers,—sighing,—weaning
Tenderly her fancy from its maiden snow,
Doth more avail than these: the silver flow
Of Hero's tears, the swoon of Imogen,
Fair Pastorella in the bandit's den,
Are things to brood on with more ardency
Than the death-day of empires."

This passage should be set beside the complaint in "Lamia" of the disenchanting touch of science:

"There was an awful rainbow once in heaven," etc.

Keats is the poet of romantic emotion, as Scott of romantic action. Professor Gates says that Keats' heroes never do anything.[41] It puzzles the reader of "The Eve of St. Agnes" to know just why Porphyro sets out the feast of cates on the little table by Madeline's bedside unless it be to give the poet an opportunity for his luscious description of "the lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon" and other like delicacies. In the early fragment "Calidore," the hero—who gets his name from Spenser—does nothing in some hundred and fifty lines but assist two ladies to dismount from their palfreys. To revert, as before, to Ariosto's programme, it was not the arme and audaci imprese which Keats sang, but the donne, the amori, and the cortesie. Feudal war array was no concern of his, but the "argent revelry" of masque and dance, and the "silver-snarling trumpets" in the musicians' gallery. He was the poet of the lute and the nightingale, rather than of the shock of spear in tourney and crusade. His "Specimen of an Induction to a Poem" begins

"Lo! I must tell a tale of chivalry."

But he never tells it. The piece evaporates in visions of pure loveliness; "large white plumes"; sweet ladies on the worn tops of old battlements; light-footed damsels standing in sixes and sevens about the hall in courtly talk. Meanwhile the lance is resting against the wall.

"Ah! shall I ever tell its cruelty,
When the fire flashes from a warrior's eye,
And his tremendous hand is grasping it?"

"No," answers the reader, "I don't think you ever will. Leave that sort of thing to Walter Scott, and go on and finish your charming fragment of 'The Eve of St. Mark,' which stops provokingly just where Bertha was reading the illuminated manuscript, as she sat in her room of an April evening, when

"'On the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatured green valleys cold.'" [42]

This quaintly attractive fragment of Keats was written while he was living in the old cathedral and college city of Winchester. "Some time since," he writes to his brother George, September, 1819, "I began a poem called 'The Eve of St. Mark,' quite in the spirit of town quietude. I think it will give you the sensation of walking about an old country town in a coolish evening." The letter describes the maiden-lady-like air of the side streets, with doorsteps fresh from the flannel, the doors themselves black, with small brass handles and lion's head or ram's head knockers, seldom disturbed. He speaks of his walks through the cathedral yard and two college-like squares, grassy and shady, dwelling-places of deans and prebendaries, out to St. Cross Meadows with their Gothic tower and Alms Square. Mr. Colvin thinks that Keats "in this piece anticipates in a remarkable degree the feeling and method of the modern pre-Raphaelite schools"; and that it is "perfectly in the spirit of Rossetti (whom we know that the fragment deeply impressed and interested)." Mr. Forman, indeed, quotes Rossetti's own dictum (works of John Keats, vol. ii., p. 320) that the poem "shows astonishingly real mediaevalism for one not bred as an artist."

It is in the Pre-Raphaelites that Keats' influence on our later poetry is seen in its most concentrated shape. But it is traceable in Tennyson, in Hood, in the Brownings, and in many others, where his name is by no means written in water. "Wordsworth," says Lowell, "has influenced most the ideas of succeeding poets; Keats their forms."


[1] Scott's friend, William Stewart Rose—to whom the first verse epistle in "Marmion" is addressed. He also translated the "Orlando Furioso" (1823-31). His "Partenopex" was made from a version in modern French.

[2] A new translation of the "Orlando," by Hoole, appeared in 1773-83; of Tasso's "Jerusalem" in 1763; and of Metastasio's dramas in 1767. These were in the heroic couplets of Pope.

[3] "Childe Harold," Canto iv., xxxviii. And Cf. vol. i., pp. 25, 49, 100, 170, 219, 222-26.

[4] Vide supra, p. 5.

[5] Vide supra, p. 40. Goethe pronounced the "Inferno" abominable, the "Purgatorio" doubtful, and the "Paradise" tiresome (Plumptre's "Dante," London, 1887, vol. ii., p. 484).

[6] See Walpole's opinion, vol. i., p. 235.

[7] For early manuscript renderings see "Les Plus Anciennes Traductions Françaises de la Divine Comédie," par C. Morel, Paris, 1897.

[8] Lowell says Kannegiesser's, 1809.

[9] "Present State of Polite Learning" (1759).

[10] "Mentre che l'uno spirto questo disse,
L'altro piangeva sì, che di pietade
I venni men, così com' io morisse:
E cadde come corpo morte cade."
—"Inferno," Canto v.

[11] Vol. i., p. 236.

[12] Plumptre's "Dante," vol. ii., p. 439.

[13] "Ungrateful Florence! Dante sleeps afar,
Like Scipio, buried, by the upbraiding shore."
—"Childe Harold," iv., 57.

[14] See vol. i., p. 49; and "Purgatorio," xxviii., 19-20.

"Tal, qual di ramo in ramo si raccoglie
Per la pineta in sal lito di Chiassi."

[15] He did better in free paraphrase than in literal translation. Cf. Stanza cviii., in "Don Juan," Canto iii.—

"Soft hour! which wakes the wish and melts the heart"—

with its original in the "Purgatorio," viii., 1-6.

[16] Dedication to La Guiccioli.

[17] But in this poem each thirteenth and fourteenth line make a couplet, thus breaking up the whole into a series of loose sonnets.

[18] T. W. Parsons' "Lines on a Bust of Dante" appeared in the Boston Advertiser in 1841. His translation of the first ten cantos of the "Inferno" was published in 1843: later instalments in 1867 and 1893. Longfellow's version of the "Divine Comedy" with the series of sonnets by the translator came out in 1867-70. For the Dante work of the Rossettis, vide infra, pp. 282 ff.

[19] "The Seer."

[20] He named a daughter, born while he was in prison, after Spenser's Florimel.

[21] "Autobiography," p. 200 (ed. of 1870).

[22] See Dickens' caricature of him as Harold Skimpole in "Bleak House."

[23] "When I was last at Haydon's," wrote Keats to his brother George in 1818-19, "I looked over a book of prints taken from the fresco of the church at Milan, the name of which I forget. In it were comprised specimens of the first and second age of art in Italy. I do not think I ever had a greater treat out of Shakespeare; full of romance and the most tender feeling; magnificence of drapery beyond everything I ever saw, not excepting Raphael's—but grotesque to a curious pitch—yet still making up a fine whole, even finer to me than more accomplished works, as there was left so much room for imagination."

[24] Against the hundreds of maxims from Pope, Keats furnishes a single motto—the first line of "Endymion"—

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever."

[25] "From Shakespeare to Pope." See also Sidney Colvin's "Keats." New York, 1887, pp. 61-64.

[26] Vide supra, p. 70.

[27] That he knew Pope's version is evident from a letter to Haydon of May, 1817, given in Lord Houghton's "Life."

[28] He could have known extremely little of mediaeval literature; yet there is nothing anywhere, even in the far more instructed Pre-Raphaelite school which catches up the whole of the true mediaeval romantic spirit—the spirit which animates the best parts of the Arthurian legend, and of the wild stories which float through mediaeval tale-telling, and make no small figure in mediaeval theology—as does the short piece of 'La Belle Dame sans Merci'. (Saintsbury: "A Short History of English Literature," p. 673).

[29] Vide supra, p. 85. And for Keats' interest in Chatterton see vol. i., pp. 370-72.

[30] The Dict. Nat. Biog. mentions doubtfully an earlier edition in 1795.

[31] See "Sonnet on Leigh Hunt's Poem 'The Story of Rimini.'" Forman's ed., vol. ii., p. 229.

[32] See Forman's ed., vol. ii., p. 334.

[33] "New Essays toward a Critical Method," London, 1897, p. 256.

[34] "Come, per sostentar solaio o tetto,
Per mensola talvolta una figura
Si vede giunger le ginocchia al petto,
La qual fa del non ver vera rancura
Nascere in chi la vede."
—"Purgatorio," Canto x., 130-34.

[35] Vide supra, p. 85.

[36] Rossetti, Colvin, Gates, Robertson, Forman, and others.

[37] Leigh Hunt. It has been objected to this passage that moonlight is not strong enough to transmit colored rays, like sunshine (see Colvin's "Keats," p. 160). But the mistake—if it is one—is shared by Scott.

"The moonbeam kissed the holy pane
And threw on the pavement a bloody stain."
—"Lay of the Last Minstrel," Canto ii., xi.

[38] It is interesting to learn that the line

"For o'er the Southern moors
I have a home for thee"

read in the original draught "Over the bleak Dartmoor," etc. Dartmoor was in sight of Teignmouth where Keats once spent two months; but he cancelled the local allusion in obedience to a correct instinct.

[39] "Ode to a Nightingale,"

[40] "The Liberal Movement in English Literature," London, 1885, p. 181.

[41] "Studies and Appreciations." Lewis G. Gates. New York, 1890, p. 17.

[42] See vol. i., p. 371, and for Cumberland's poem, on the same superstition, ibid., 177.

Henry Augustin Beers