Old Love Stories Retold: John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Page 2|
by Richard Le Gallienne (1904).
Ten years after his death the woman whom Endymion loved was still unable, not only to appreciate "the ode to a Grecian urn," but the immortal honour he had done her. Such an utterance makes one wish that Keats had lived a year or two longer, not for the sake of his work—for he could have reached no higher perfection—but to recover from an absurd infatuation, which began in calf-love and grew hysterical with the advance of inherited consumption. That Keats would have recovered from his suburban passion, and passed on to some higher and completer love, his letters to Fanny Brawne himself sufficiently prove. So long as he was comparatively well and occupied with poetry he presented himself from the felicity of her presence with a prosaic deliberation which must have seemed strangely unloverlike to "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." It was only when illness gave a neurotic intensity to all his feelings that Fanny Brawne gained a painful importance. The sick have many fancies. When Keats was himself, before that drop of arterial blood upon the sheet, which told the surgical-student poet that he must die, he wrote like this to his happily married brother George: "Notwithstanding your happiness and your recommendations, I hope I shall never marry: though the most beautiful creature were waiting for me at the end of a journey or a walk; though the carpet were of silk, and the curtains of the morning clouds, the chairs and sofas stuffed with cygnet's down, the food manna, the wine beyond claret, the window opening on Winandermere, I should not feel, or rather my happiness should not be, so fine; my solitude is sublime—for, instead of what I have described, there is a sublimity to welcome me home; the roaring of the wind is my wife; and the stars through my window-panes are my children; the mighty abstract Idea of Beauty in all things, I have, stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness. An amiable wife and sweet children I contemplate as part of that Beauty, but I must have a thousand of those beautiful particles to fill up my heart. . . . . Those things, combined with the opinion I have formed of the generality of women, who appear to me as children to whom I would rather give a sugar-plum than my time, form a barrier against matrimony which I rejoice in. . . ."
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Yet before this he had met a beautiful girl whom history would fain substitute for Fanny Brawne, and for whom awhile she was mistaken, a beautiful girl whom he thus vividly describes: "She is not a Cleopatra, but is, at least, a Charmian: she has a rich Eastern look; she has fine eyes, and manners. When she comes into a room she makes the same impression as the beauty of a leopardess. She is too fine and too conscious of herself to repulse any man who may address her: from habit she thinks that nothing particular. I always find myself more at ease with such a woman: he picture before me always gives me a life and animation which I cannot possibly feel with anything inferior. I am, at such times, too much occupied in admiring to be awkward or in a tremble: I forget myself entirely, because I live in her. You will, by this time, think I am in love with her, so before I go any further, I will tell you I am not. She kept me awake one night, as a tune of Mozart's might do. I speak of the thing as a pastime and an amusement, than which I can feel none deeper than a conversation with an imperial woman, the very 'yes' and 'no' of whose life is to me a banquet. I don't cry to take the moon home with me in my pocket, nor do I fret to leave her behind me. I like her, and her like, because one has no sensations: what we both are is taken for granted."
Critics for some time mistook this for a description of Fanny Brawne, but it has since transpired that Keats was here describing a Miss Charlotte (or, according to Rossetti, Jane) Coxe.
His first impression—or inventory—of Miss Brawne was, indeed, by no means so complimentary.
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