John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 16|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
His perturbed spirit, like Hamlet, is thinking too precisely on the event. But a Horatio offers relief for the overwrought nerves. This is Bailey, a scholar, reading for the Church, who invites him to Oxford. Bailey is the right man at the right moment; the perfect intellectual comrade. With him Keats finds his equilibrium. Those are halcyon weeks at Oxford. Rambles in the country by day, boating on the Isis, readings of Wordsworth in a favorite cove; at night in the college rooms, discussions on literature, life and "the mystery of things." The work, too, is regular; fifty lines a day on the third book of "Endymion." Here Keats seals a friendship. The sterling character of Bailey, he affirms, is greater than genius; he wishes for him the blessing of "a Peona wife." And the host bears testimony to the graciousness of Keats, the fascination of his talk, the throbbing earnestness of his ambition.
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After Oxford come more wandering and feverish writing; in lodgings at Well Walk and in London. The first attack on Hunt and the Cockney School appears in "Blackwood's." The name of Keats is printed in heavy black type, a portent of the future. "I don't relish his abuse," Keats writes of the anonymous enemy, and in the event of the anticipated outrage he meditates a challenge. The "terrier courage" is aroused. It is some time during this period that he fights the butcher in the blind alley; stands up to his man for an hour and finally conquers.
Trouble is brewing elsewhere. The coterie of Hampstead Heath is breaking up. "Everybody is at loggerheads." Mrs. Hunt borrowed some of Haydon's silver and did n't return it on time; Hunt and Haydon are backbiting each other in consequence. Haydon and Reynolds are at odds. Horace Smith is offended at Hunt. Amid the jangling, diminutive Keats looms large and magnanimous. "Men should bear with each other," he says to Bailey. "There lives not the man who may not be cut up, aye, lashed to pieces on his weakest side. . . . The sure way is first to know a man's faults and then be passive—if after that he insensibly draws you towards him, then you have no power to break the link." It is very significant that Keats, when he once made friends, held them to the end.
"Endymion" was finished at Burford Bridge. He went up Box Hill alone at night to view the moon and came back to write his last lines. It was here, too, that he first began to formulate his poetic philosophy of the imagination as the ultimate source of truth.
The strain is over. The revision and fair copy for the printer can be made in the cool of the blood. Keats gives himself over to diversion—is much in London. He goes the rounds with the gay. One night he is "dyin' scarlet" with some boon comrades. Another night he takes a peep into the green-room of a theatre. A third he attends Haydon's dinner, meeting Wordsworth, Lamb, Landseer; the "immortal dinner" at which Lamb played tipsy and held the candle in the face of the bumptious commissioner of stamps. During the Christmas holidays he entertains his little sister Fanny in town. One sees him, in fancy, holding her hand as they crowd with the other children into the pantomime. This affection for the orphan sister is one of his exquisite unwritten poems. In this period he writes a sonnet on the Nile in competition with Hunt and Shelley. He also attends Hazlitt's lectures on the English poets and records that there are three great things in the present age: Wordsworth's "Excursion," Haydon's pictures, and Hazlitt's depth of taste. There is more revelry. On one occasion he goes to a dance party, where the host has "eight dozen" in reserve for the unquenchables. The night passes in racketing, drinking and cutting for half-guineas—"uproar the only music." Yet the carouse must have been canonical; for Bailey was there and enjoyed himself. Two things in these days bring pleasure and pain: a rumor from the West country of his poetic fame; the discovery of the mortal Wordsworth, his stiff choker collars and his "egotistical sublime."
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