John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 8|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
Hunt took the theme which Dante left perfect for the ages and he perfumed it with rose-water. He lilted along airily through four cantos and etherized the passion. The effort was as injudicious as if he had done the story of the prodigal son in anacreonitics. An enemy dubbed him "sweet Master Shallow." Nevertheless, despite a deficiency of real genius, Hunt had pluck and he was capable of noble friendships.
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Keats passed under his influence, young, aspiring, grateful of recognition. There was a blessing in the elder's encouragement, but bane in the direction of the artistic pressure. At that time Keats cared more for decoration than for profound feeling. The two had, therefore, a natural affinity, a love of pretty things, and they flattered each other's weakness. Hunt opened his home and heart, made a couch for the visitor in his library, stimulated his ambition, recommended his own style of heroic couplet and introduced him to a literary coterie. Keats met, first and last, Reynolds, Haydon, Shelley, Dilke, Brown and Severn.
The occasional verses of these months give glimpses of his life. In Hunt's library—a miniature museum of busts and pictures—the little clan gathered, wrote competitive sonnets, spent the evenings in animated chat and, like the snowbound Esquimaux in winter, indulged themselves too generously in mutual admiration. Keats left reluctantly for the long dark walk to his lodgings in London. But he went oblivious of cold, winds and stars. His mind was full of Milton and Italian poetry. His heart was overflowing with creative impulses. His spirit was on the heights. And he renders these moods of exaltation—the noteworthy feature—in terms of singing angels, pink robes, wavy hair, silver harps, pearly chariots—all pretty things.
Haydon was something of a counter-influence. If Hunt with his elegant trifles is comparable to a Cellini, Haydon, with his hammering energy, is comparable to the god Thor. A tempestuous soul; of heroic aspirations; egotistic, tireless, almost a conqueror of fame. Keats spent hours in his studio, deeply impressed by the painter's highmindedness. "Consider principle of more value than genius," he advised the young poet. "Collect incident, study character, read Shakespeare and trust in Providence. The divine fire in Haydon, however, was fitful. He professed to find a refuge in God and he found his final refuge in suicide.
These two personal influences played upon the plastic nature of Keats while he was making the first collection of poems. The Hunt pressure was by far the stronger. The volume of 1817, in substance and technique, shows the predilections of the creator of the new style. It was dedicated to Hunt and when issued it was reviewed and praised in the "Examiner." The début was ill-starred. For Keats was thus publicly affiliated with the libeler of the Regent and his poetry was associated with the political radicalism which had made its nest on Hampstead Heath.
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