John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 23|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
When "Endymion" was on the press, Keats wrote to his publisher saying that this passage about happiness had been ringing in his ears like "a chime a-mending" and he requested some alterations. He then added that the poem was "a regular stepping-stone of the Imagination towards a truth. . . . It set before me the gradations of happiness even like a pleasure thermometer." Endymion thus exhibits a series of experiences which educate a youth in the higher life of beauty. Love is the dominant theme. But in addition to love there is a wide range of other emotions. There is aspiration after the celestial vision, devotion to the goddess, splendor in the subterranean labyrinth, awe before the shrine of Diana, charm in the arbor of Adonis, reverence in the moon worship, sympathy for Glaucus and the dead lovers, majesty in the palace of Neptune, grief in the story of the bacchante, abnegation in the resolution of Endymion to lead an ascetic life,—these and still more. "Endymion," therefore, portrays a succession of exalting emotions. In "Sleep and Poetry" Keats yearned for an education in the higher life. In this poem he has sought it and found it by means of the imagination. "All our passions in their sublime," he wrote to Bailey in another letter, "are creative of essential beauty." In "Endymion" he played upon various passions, like Timotheus upon the lyre, and he endeavored to raise them to their sublime.
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With a little anticipation we may define his æsthetic philosophy even more clearly. In the packet of letters sent to his brother George in 1819, under the date of April 28, he indulged in a characteristic discussion of the effect of environment on character. "Call the world," he says, "the vale of soul-making. Then you will find out the use of the world." Then he argues thus. Human beings at birth are not souls, only intelligences. An intelligence has no peculiar individuality. A soul is an intelligence with the addition of individuality. An intelligence is transformed into a soul by the experience of the heart's emotions, and such experience is obtained by the discipline of joy and pain.
An illustration will enforce his meaning. If two minds had precisely the same knowledge of the theorems of Euclid and nothing more, they would lack distinguishing personalities. But if, with the knowledge, one had a distaste for Euclid and the other a relish, they would possess the differences of temperamental feeling which are the basis of personality.
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