John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 24|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The reasoning of Keats may then be reduced to the following simple propositions:—
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A soul is an intelligence with individuality.
Individuality is the result of the emotional experience of the heart.
Our world is the schoolhouse for this emotional experience.
The value of this mortal life is, therefore, in the making of a soul by the uses of the world.
While this may all seem the speculation of an amateur, it is very vital to Keats. For his genius developed and wrought itself into poetry by extracting from life the æsthetic elements of personality. In æsthetics he sought salvation. For the future life he conceived to be a continuation of the sensations of this, only in finer tone. And in proof of the seriousness with which he held these views, he naïvely states to his brother, "I think it is a grander system of salvation than the Christian religion. It is a system of spirit-creation."
It is now possible to discern the exact meaning which Keats gave to the word "spiritualize." "Endymion" is an example of soul-making. The mysterious agencies guided the youth through his pilgrimage so that he might acquire beautiful things as a permanent possession of the spirit. These developed his callow intelligence into a soul, rich in beautiful memories, strong for the ills of earthly existence and exalted for the celestial life above. Wordsworth in the "Excursion"—which Keats declared one of the three great things of the age—had constructed a philosophy in which "melancholy fear was subdued by faith" and man's lost joy was restored by the influence of nature. In "Endymion" Keats was working out a similar scheme of his own; he was endeavoring to find joy and to "spiritualize" a mortal being by the influence of pure beauty.
We must revise the former statement that the chief trait in Keats' poetry is "the relish for tidbits of fleeting pleasure." His ambition has outgrown the impulse of the volume of 1817. It has acquired a new dignity. It is no longer content with the ephemeral. His search is for beauty in order that beauty may create soul and fortify it by the permanent possession of joy.
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